Port Royal considers future of shrimp docks as town balances budget

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMay 5, 2014 

  • If you go

    Port Royal Town Council will hold a series of meetings on the proposed 2015 fiscal year budget: Work sessions begin at 5:45 p.m., followed by regular meetings at 6:30 p.m., all at Town Hall, 700 Paris Ave.

    • Tuesday: Work session for legislative, executive and court budgets
    • May 14: Work session for police, fire, streets, sanitation and building services budgets; first vote on proposed budget during regular meeting
    • June 11: Second, final vote on proposed budget during regular meeting

The town of Port Royal is having the same problem as other Beaufort County municipalities as it tries to balance a budget built on declining revenues.

But the town's staff has its marching orders: Avoid a tax hike at nearly any cost.

"The message from council is to hold the line on the millage rate," town manager Van Willis said.

That could mean the town stops operating its shrimp docks, as losses there continue to mount.

The first of a series of meetings related to the fiscal-year 2015 budget starts Tuesday, when the council, executive and court budgets will be presented, Willis said. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The town had a $4.9 million budget this year, and Willis said the town probably will have between $4.6 million and $4.7 million to work with in the coming year.

Most of the decrease comes from a drop in property tax collections, and a decrease in revenue from fuel sales, rent and other fees at the town's shrimp docks. Willis said the docks are "bleeding money."

Mayor Sam Murray said if the council has to choose between a tax increase or ending the dock operation, he'll vote against the docks.

The dock has overrun its budget for several years. It lost $125,000 in 2012, and losses this year could reach $200,000 because the town spent money to improve the facility and purchase equipment, Willis said.

The next few months of shrimp season, which opened last weekend, probably will determine the docks' future, Willis said. If shrimpers don't bring in large enough catches to allow them to pay rent on their dock space -- or if the forecast is so dim, they don't go shrimping at all -- that could mark the end of the town's involvement in the dock.

The town could recoup some of its investment by selling equipment or contracting the docks out to a private operator. Willis said some large fleet operators have shown interest in taking over the docks.

The budget is otherwise similar to budgets from previous years, Willis said. It contains a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase, $90,000 in savings on employee health insurance, and a $60,000 decrease in annual debt payments from paying off two firetrucks.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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