In 2021, a lot happened within New Hanover County local governments.
From the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to a push to replace the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, almost all of the issues that came before local officials are bound to reach beyond 2021 into this year.
Here are some of the top local government issues and initiatives that saw action in 2021 and others you should keep an eye on this year:
Investments in affordable housing
In the last year, Wilmington and New Hanover County officials took a closer look at the region’s affordable housing needs.
In April, the joint city/county Workforce Housing Advisory Committee presented research to local officials that show roughly half of New Hanover County’s renters are cost-burdened by their housing, meaning they pay more than 30% of their monthly income for a rental.
Researchers also found that New Hanover County will need to add 4,100 new housing units in the next five years to keep up with its population growth.
Officials discussed placing a $50 million affordable housing bond on the ballot in the November 2021 ballot to fund the county’s needs. The issue has been contentious with leaders from New Hanover County and the city of Wilmington seeming to back away from the measure after a survey from the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce found public resistance to a tax increase from the housing bond.
But at a December meeting of the Workforce Housing Advisory Committee, members voted to recommend moving forward with the bond.
In 2022, elected officials will be tasked with deciding whether the item is placed on November’s ballot. If the bond makes it onto the ballot, the public will have to weigh higher property taxes with the area’s need for more affordable housing.
Paying for WAVE transit changes
Like affordable housing, local officials want public money to pay for investments in WAVE transit, Wilmington’s public transportation system.
Local leaders have voiced support for a countywide quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund system improvements. Under current conditions, that would raise approximately $12 million to invest in public transit.
In 2021, the Wilmington City Council and New Hanover County Board of Commissioners delayed previously proposed changes to the transit system and signaled an interest in making system improvements.
Officials have given the system’s director, who took over in late 2020, until July 1, 2022 to put together a system redesign.
The changes proposed in the redesign and whether the quarter-cent sales tax initiative reaches the November ballot will be decided in the coming year.
Hospital sale revenue to be spent
New Hanover County finalized the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health in 2021.
The $1.5 billion proceeds from the controversial sale were split between a community endowment, revenue stabilization fund and mental and behavioral health fund. This year could offer more clarity on how the endowment money will be spent.
In recent months, members of the endowment committee held two community listening sessions aimed at understanding community investment needs. The foundation is also working to find a permanent chief executive officer to manage its day-to-day operations.
Applications for grant money from the endowment are expected to open up in 2022, determining how the money is spent.
Community violence is addressed
Approximately $350 million from the hospital sale is set to go toward addressing community violence prevention following a shooting at New Hanover High School in September.
The shooting injured one student and prompted parents and local officials to take action to address gun violence in the school system and the community.
Other notable crimes throughout 2021, including the killing of three and shooting of four others at a Wilmington home and a fatal shooting at the house of a TRU Colors Brewing executive, have focused public attention on gun violence.
More:‘We’re not changing anything’: After deadly shooting, TRU Colors founder stands by model
While details of the school and community investments have not been released publicly, conversations between New Hanover County government and school officials and investments will continue into 2022.
Tolls for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge?
In the last year, local officials considered a proposal to install make the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge a toll bridge. The toll promised to expedite replacing the bridge but drew mixed reactions from local officials and residents.
Ultimately, the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization voted not to pursue the proposed toll bridge in late July. However, the proposal created public conversation about the need for investments in New Hanover County infrastructure as the area’s population grows.
Conversations about the need for infrastructure funding, especially for a replacement to the Cape Fear Memorial, will undoubtedly continue in 2022.
More details on Project Grace
Last year saw progress on Project Grace, a re-development of Wilmington’s downtown library and public history museum.
In 2021, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners adopted a memorandum of understanding with commercial developer Zimmer Development, Inc. that allowed the project to move into a discovery phase.
In 2022, the project will continue to move forward as the project’s design and development stage wraps up. Construction of the facility could also begin next year.
More:Reading terraces, a planetarium, demolition: Wilmington’s Project Grace details released
More details are also set to be released in 2022 about private development planned for the library’s current site.
Growth and a new director
The third and final phase of the terminal expansion at Wilmington International Airport is expected to wrap up in 2022.
The terminal expansion started in 2018 and has progressed since then in a series of phases. Phase three is the largest, according to the airport’s website, and will add a new concourse, gate seating and space for a new restaurant or retailer.
The expansion is expected to add approximately 162,800 square feet to the airport terminal, increasing its area by 75%, according to the airport’s website.
The airport’s director was ousted in 2021 when the board governing the airport decided not to renew her contract. That set off a nationwide search for a new director who was announced last fall.
As a new director takes the helm, the business park surrounding Wilmington International is also set to see growth in 2022. In November, two companies announced decisions to locate in the airport’s business park.
Elections could bring changes
In 2021, New Hanover County held its municipal elections.
The election didn’t bring much change to the Wilmington City Council as Bill Saffo was elected to his eighth term as the city’s mayor and two incumbent council members won re-election.
It brought more of a shake-up to Carolina Beach where there are three new faces on the town’s council. In 2022, the elected and re-elected local officials will take some of their first official actions with their new boards.
The new year will also see elections for spots on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and the New Hanover Board of Education along with seats in Congress and the North Carolina state legislature.
The candidate filing period has been paused and the spring 2022 primary delayed while the North Carolina State Supreme Court considers a lawsuit, but the coming year could bring new representatives to the region.
Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or email@example.com.