Bluffton council passes leaner budget, raises taxes

tbarton@islandpacket.comJune 11, 2013 

Bluffton Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a $18.37 million budget for fiscal 2013-14. The budget is $640,000 less than the amended budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The new spending plan calls for raising property taxes to offset an expected $20-million loss in property values from an upcoming countywide reassessment, as well as a tax increase to cover the first debt payment on the town's Law Enforcement Center.

Some Bluffton residents might pay more in taxes and fees this fall in exchange for a new police station and continued funding to restore the May River and assist small-business start-ups.

Bluffton Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a $18.37 million budget for fiscal 2013-14. The budget is $640,000 less than the amended budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The new spending plan calls for raising property taxes from 38 to 44.3 mills to offset an expected $20-million loss in property values from an upcoming countywide reassessment to recalculate real estate values.

The budget also calls for a tax-rate increase of 1.82 mills to cover the first debt payment on the town's Law Enforcement Center, which opened in 2011.

Town manager Anthony Barrett, however, said many residents likely will not pay higher taxes. That's because assessed values are expected to decrease an average of 21 percent townwide.

But if a property's value rises or does not change, the owner would pay more in taxes.

An owner with a home assessed at $150,000 would pay about $37.80 more a year -- assuming the property's value does not change. Or, as town officials put it, the cost of one cup of coffee once a month.

"A millage increase doe not necessarily mean a tax increase," Mayor Lisa Sulka said in a news release. "When you multiply a decreased property value with an increased millage rate -- in most cases, for Bluffton residents -- it will be less money leaving their pockets."

State law dictates properties be reassessed every five years and requires local governments to reduce tax rates when property values rise. A 2011 Attorney General's Office opinion states those governments must also increase rates when values decline, so collections remain "revenue neutral."

The budget also includes a 2-percentage-point increase -- from 3 to 5 percent of a gross revenue -- in the franchise fee SCE&G customers pay.

That increase would appear on customers' electric bills, though it was not clear Tuesday how much more they would pay as a result.

The utility collects the fee for municipalities in return for the use of public rights of way.

The budget does not call for more town employees, but 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.

  • Continued neighborhood assistance and home repairs, as well as improvements to the Buck Island and Simmonsville roads areas.

  • No one from the public spoke for or against the budget or the franchise fee increase.

    Related content

    1. Town of Bluffton proposed FY 2013-14 annual budget
    2. Bluffton Town Council June 11, 2013 meeting agenda
    3. Municipalities push for local-option tax referendum: June 8, 2013

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