New fees recommended for city of Beaufort car drivers, non-profit organizations

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMay 15, 2013 

New fees for vehicle owners and nonprofit organizations that don't pay property taxes, such as colleges and churches, could be introduced in the city of Beaufort to raise money next year.

The fees are being recommended by city manager Scott Dadson in the draft budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1. Council must vote on the budget and fees before they could take effect.

Council discussed a $35 transportation fee for all vehicles registered within the city last year, but decided against it.

This time, Dadson is recommending a $40 fee for all vehicles registered in the city to pay for street maintenance. It would bring in about $320,000, according to a presentation during the City Council work session Tuesday.

Dadson also is recommending a public-service fee equal to 0.01 percent of a property's appraised value for nonprofit groups that do not pay property taxes in the city. The money would go to emergency-response services, such as police and fire.

The fee would bring in about $301,000, according to the presentation.

"It's set fairly low (so) as to not be an excessive burden," Dadson said.

Beaufort Memorial Hospital, schools such as the Technical College of the Lowcountry and the University of South Carolina Beaufort, churches and nonprofit organizations do not pay taxes and would be subject to the proposed fee.

In the city, 525 properties, or 8 percent, are tax-exempt, according to finance director Kathy Todd. The value of that land is almost $202 million, or 9 percent of all appraised properties.

Todd has been discussing revenue and capital-improvement projects with City Council since the beginning of March. Expenses by department will be discussed during the next few weeks.

The budget draft assumes a tax-rate increase, or "roll forward," designed to keep revenue neutral despite a decline in overall assessed property value.

Property countywide is being reassessed this year, and total property value is expected to drop. Official estimates will not be available until August, Todd said, but informal estimates in early spring showed a decline of up to $500,000 in city property-tax revenue.

The draft budget calls for $16.9 million in revenues, including the fees and roll-forward. Expenditures, however, are $18.1 million and include a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for city employees.

Allocations for police retirement-fund contributions, trash pickup, fire department operations and court technology upgrades also would rise.

The budget for parks maintenance will remain unchanged, but more money for that purpose will come from the city's general fund because a special tax district that has been paying for Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park expires.

To balance the budget, about $1.2 million would be taken from the city's fund balance, or savings account.

The first vote on the proposed budget is expected in early June, followed by a public hearing and a final vote.

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