NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC – During Monday’s meeting, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners approved, in a 3-2 vote, a resolution to place a referendum for a quarter-cent sales tax on the November ballot for residents to vote on.
The sales tax would provide a dedicated source of revenue focused on public transportation enhancements and improvements. Over a 10-year span, it is estimated that the tax would generate $144 million from goods purchased in New Hanover County by visitors, commuters and residents. The tax would exclude items like groceries, fuel and prescriptions.
As part of the board’s motion in approving the resolution, New Hanover County will work with the City of Wilmington, the towns of Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville beaches, Wave Transit, the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO), and other community partners to ensure an overall public transportation plan is developed to prioritize projects and ensure proceeds would be used efficiently and effectively.
If voters approve the tax in November, the Board of Commissioners would then need to vote to levy the tax so it could go into effect in 2023. If implemented, New Hanover County’s overall sales tax rate would go from 7 percent to 7.25 percent. That increase would be equal to an additional 25 cents for every $100 spent on eligible goods.
Based on an initial framework, money from the sales tax would be divided between three components over the first 10 years: 45 percent or $65 million to public transportation, 39 percent or $56 million to improvements for bicycle and pedestrian pathways, and 16 percent or $23 million to rail realignment.
Public transportation funding would focus primarily on creating a more robust and better-connected Wave Transit system that would allow riders to reach their destinations more efficiently, with greater reliability and improved usability. This includes standard bus service as well as the on-demand microtransit service. Additional projects could include on-board wi-fi, zero-emission and greener technology, and more innovative student transportation programs.
Connected to public transportation would be improvements to bicycle and pedestrian pathways, which would allow streamlined access for individuals to utilize public transportation. Additionally, the dedicated funding could create new bike lanes, trails, crosswalks, greenways, multi-use trails and sidewalks that would make it easier for individuals to traverse the county without using a personal vehicle.
The final piece of the tax would focus on rail realignment, meaning the relocation of freight rail lines that currently sit in densely populated areas of the county. This would help minimize congestion caused by trains moving through the community with the possibility of turning these rail lines into a public transportation system, such as a trolley system. Local funds could also be leveraged for additional state and federal funding.
Additional education information will be shared with the community in the coming months, to ensure voters are informed prior to the November election.