Bluffton council considers raising taxes, cutting spending

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comJune 11, 2013 

The town of Bluffton will likely cut some spending and raise some taxes and fees in the next fiscal year to cope with an expected $20 million loss in property values.

Town Council meets a 6 p.m. Tuesday to approve a proposed $18.37 million budget for 2013-14. The proposal is $640,000 less than the amended budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

It calls for raising property taxes to pay the debt on the town's Law Enforcement Center and to offset a decline in property values expected from a countywide reassessment to recalculate real estate values. It also would increase the franchise fee SCE&G customers in town pay.

The total value of property in Bluffton town limits is expected to drop because of the real estate decline since the last reassessment. The town, like other local governments in Beaufort County, plans to raise property taxes to offset the property-value drop. The result should be revenue neutral for the town and most property owners. But if an individual property's value rises, the owner could pay more in taxes.

Town manager Anthony Barrett wrote in a memo to council, however, that residents may not pay higher taxes from the "roll forward" in the property-tax rate. That's because assessed values are expected to decrease an average of 21 percent townwide.

The budget also calls for a tax-rate increase to cover the first debt payment on the town's Law Enforcement Center, which opened in 2011.

Also likely is a 2-percentage-point increase -- from 3 to 5 percent of a gross revenue -- in the franchise fee charged to SCE&G. That increase would appear on customers' electric bills, and SCE&G would pass the entire amount to the town. It was not immediately clear Monday how much more SCE&G customers would pay if the fee is increased.

The fee is paid by the utility in return for the use of public rights of way. It is not classified as a tax under state law and can be negotiated with the utility.

The budget does not call for more town employees, but it does provide for:

  • $80,350 to purchase seven new police vehicles and other equipment, and $51,700 for payments on seven police vehicles purchased this fiscal year.

  • A new vice and drug enforcement program funded with money and property seized from drug arrests.

  • Continued funding for the May River Action Plan and the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, a small-business incubator formed with Clemson University.

  • A 6.8 percent increase in the town's contribution toward employee health insurance and retirement plans.

  • Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

    Related content:

    Town of Bluffton proposed FY2013-14 annual budget

    Bluffton Town Council June 11, 2013 meeting agenda

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