Originally published on April 24, 2021.
Moving to the beach comes with high expectations, high temperatures and most importantly, high costs. The town of Wrightsville Beach is no exception.
Visitors have to pay $5 an hour to park just to shop, dine and enjoy the sun. Is that fee really worth it?
The jump in parking costs from 2018, when it was half this amount at $2.50 an hour, is classist and exclusionary. The costs have been rising annually and reached a new high for the summer season of 2021. This needs to be reevaluated and changed for all beachgoers to enjoy this public area.
Property taxes for the Town of Wrightsville Beach are at an all-time low for the entire southeastern region of North Carolina. Going just a few miles south to Carolina Beach, property owners pay double that of their peers on Wrightsville Beach island. For every $100 of assessed property value in Carolina Beach, owners pay $24.50 in taxes, compared to $12.50 in Wrightsville Beach. With these beaches being nearly equivalent and offering similar opportunities for residents and visitors, it is expected that these rates should not differ so significantly.
Do I expect property owners of these beach towns to cover all expenses of visitors through property taxes? Absolutely not. But Wrightsville Beach is the only place in North Carolina where an exception to the use of parking fees exists, allowing the town to put revenue from street parking meters toward other uses, not related to any parking facility, street maintenance or other parking-related use.
This exception was made in 1998 with intentions unclear 23 years later, however, the implications of this law have made it so that Wrightsville Beach taxpayers get a hefty premium, while visitors make up for their discount. In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Wrightsville Beach estimated the revenue from parking fees to be around $3 million—a similar value to that of property taxes at approximately $3 million, as well. Without the revenue made by beach visitors paying parking fees, property taxes would have to double in order for the town to maintain its budgeted expenses each year.
A healthy compromise needs to be made. If visitors are expected to carry a portion of the burden of expenses that should be paid by property owners, it should be at a reasonable price for beachgoers.
With a change to Wrightsville Beach’s exceptionally low property tax rate, parking fees would not need to rise to expenses that are nowhere near affordable to those who reside in the local Wilmington area. Almost a quarter of Wilmington’s residents live below the poverty line. These are people who deserve to enjoy this public space and should have an option to do so at a reasonable price. If property taxes increased by just a small percentage, this would be possible.