May 15, 2023

Police budgets increasing across NHC, here’s what the money is going toward

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Millions more taxpayer dollars will be dedicated to law enforcement as five New Hanover County municipalities finalize next year's spending plans in coming weeks.

READ MORE: 400 calls every 24 hours: WPD reports lowest crime stats in 13 years

Proposals indicate a large portion of additional funds will be used for capital projects and equipment purchases or replacements. These include new, more concealable guns for the Wilmington Police Department and new vehicles for the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office.

In the county's beach towns, police department staff are seeing some raises. Job responsibilities are also shifting, such as beach patrol from ocean rescue to the police department in Carolina Beach.

Detailed below are the proposed increases to each municipality's law enforcement budget.

New Hanover County

Total Budget: $69,138,311

The New Hanover County Sheriff's Office is set to gain $1,180,440 more from the county's general fund, after gaining a $14.6 million increase last budget cycle. The bump will go toward capital projects.

According to budget documents, county manager Chris Coudriet is recommending several capital improvements be funded through the general fund, including $265,386 for furniture and equipment for the sheriff's office vice and narcotics facility.

The remaining general fund increase — $1,488,000 — will cover improvements to NHCSO's shooting range. The facility is set to undergo a building replacement ($638,000), gain a modular indoor shoot house at page range ($300,000) and include a building for ammunition and equipment ($550,000).

The new range buildings, still on the same property, will replace three modular units over 20 years old. According to information from county spokesperson Alex Riley, the units have ongoing maintenance, structural, HVAC and water system issues.

Budget documents show the county will issue debt for shooting range projects.

As for capital improvements, almost $3 million is dedicated to NHCSO from the county's capital outlay fund. A little over $2 million will go toward the purchase of 42 replacement patrol cars, which, according to Riley, is the norm. Vehicles are replenished based on a points system that considers various factors.

The remaining $817,700 will go toward equipment, including surveillance upgrades, portable radios, an insulated container for evidence storage, a security fencing upgrade and two grills for the NHCSO kitchen, along with other minor additions.

City of Wilmington

Total Budget: $40,826,057

The City of Wilmington is planning to increase its budget by 5%, resulting in $1,743,982 more dedicated to the Wilmington Police Department.

Staff, made of 354 full-time employees now, will see a small addition of four officers to add to the Getting Home Street Outreach Program. The program is a $2.4-million joint effort between county and city to combat homelessness.

The positions are covered in part through the American Rescue Plan Act funding. According to budget documents, the grant will cover 90% of the officers’ duties; however, 10% from the city's general fund will be needed to include "tasks outside the grant's authority to pay."

City spokesperson Dylan Lee specified the employees will have other department assignments and special events not directly related to homeless outreach.

As a result, $240,077 will be budgeted in the police department as an ARPA credit, while $26,675 will be needed to supplement the officers from the general fund.

This fiscal year's budget will also include three police officers and one police sergeant. In October, city council authorized the addition in this year's budget, resulting in an adjustment.

As far as equipment, the force plans to purchase 30 new Glock handguns to the tune of $13,625. WPD detectives "require special handguns that can be concealed when wearing plain clothes," budget documents note.

$92,975 will replace four watch commander vehicles with Tahoes instead of Explorers. According to Lee, the current 2013 Explorers are at the end of their life cycle and will be sold at auction.

According to budget documents, the new vehicles provide a "better platform for incident command situations that routinely are needed in the city."

The one-time charges of $52,308 include the purchase of the vehicles, labeling, emergency lighting, radios, and sirens. A recurring amount of $40,667 includes the fleet lease payment, maintenance, fuel, and insurance.

The city is also allocating $38,366 for the partnership between Recycling and Trash, WPD and code enforcement to clean up city right-of-ways and "illegal dumpsites." The partnership is based on the "broken window theory," a 1982 academic theory that uses broken windows as a metaphor for disorder in a city.

The thought is, the more an area is perceived as incivil, through things like broken windows, cleanliness, or indicators of crime, the more the public feels an area is unsafe, which leads to social avoidance and feeds into more crime. Critics argue there is no causal link between broken windows and crime; however, the notion was popular during the ‘90s in major cities like New York, which attributed to aggressive maintenance of urban areas with the dramatic decrease in crime.

Additionally, $14,000 will be dedicated to Wilmington's Police Department for the purchase of Narcan in an effort to combat drug overdose death, particularly from the nationwide opioid epidemic. The money comes from the Opioid Settlement Fund, a collaboration with New Hanover County totaling $95,153. The city is scheduled to receive $800,000 over the next 18 years to support the community's Mental Health & Substance Use Disorder Strategic Plan.

Wrightsville Beach

Total budget: $3,592,923

The Wrightsville Beach Police Department is proposing an additional $760,069 to next fiscal year's budget for pay and professional services increases.

According to the town's proposal, salaries and wages will increase by $366,156. The department's 25 full-time and two non-sworn positions will see a 7% merit or cost of living adjustment pay increase.

The budget proposal also shows an increase in employee benefits consistent with trends across the county and state; $140,000 more will be dedicated to retirement, 401K contributions and insurance.

The budget also shows $14,000 more for auto/equipment and nearly $10,000 for department supplies and materials to keep up with cost. Additionally, maintenance costs exceed $12,000. According to town manager Tim Owens, the bulk of the funds will cover an increase in one of the town's maintenance contracts.

Carolina Beach

Total Budget: $3,936,579

A similar increase is proposed in Wrightsville Beach's neighbor, Carolina Beach. The town is budgeting $578,671 to its police department.

According to the proposal, wages will increase by $214,973 due to the town plans to transfer four beach patrol positions from the ocean rescue department to the police department. The town will also add a full-time beach patrol ranger charged with patrolling the strand and boardwalk to educate and enforce code violations. The ranger will be paid $46,648.

As a result of the transfer, the town notes there will be a larger police presence on the boardwalk.

Town manager Bruce Oakley noted the beach patrol duties were a better fit in the police department.

"The Police Department is already charged with enforcing laws/rules and we expect there will be more compliance with our beach ordinances with an employee from that Department," Oakley wrote in an email. "There will be one employee assigned to Beach Patrol but they may [be] supplemented by other officers on duty."

The appropriation also includes $80,000 in maintenance and repair of equipment, vehicles, tires and software.

Kure Beach

Total Budget: $2,058,222

This small Pleasure Island police department is set to increase its budget by $177,242, a 9.4% increase.

According to the proposed budget, the largest increase will be minor equipment maintenance and purchases, which is increasing by 225% to a total of $18,000.

Personnel costs are attributed to $155,237 in additional costs and $20,000 will be dedicated to the department's vehicles.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at [email protected].

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New Hanover County Total Budget: $69,138,311 City of Wilmington Total Budget: $40,826,057 Wrightsville Beach Total budget: $3,592,923 Carolina Beach Total Budget: $3,936,579 Kure Beach Total Budget: $2,058,222