Beaufort City Council continues to mull 2015 budget

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMay 20, 2014 

  • In other business, council

    • Heard a report on finances for the third quarter of fiscal year 2014.
    • Granted final approval to a 10-year lease for the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System to use 1,648 square feet of space at the city's police department and municipal court building. The lease charges $60,000 annually for the first five years, and $50,000 a year for the final five. The first five years include the costs of building renovations.
    • Authorized contracting architectural firm AAG Associates of Beaufort, for renovations to the police and court building related to the lease.

Beaufort City Council continues to consider a $16.87 million budget that requires significant cuts to department heads' requests.

Public Works Department director Isiah Smalls ran through a long list of projects, associated costs and budget line items at a council workshop Tuesday night. He pointed out where Public Works is saving money and where cuts will cause long-term problems.

"A lot of things we do, you don't see. But when we don't do it, you see it," he said, citing trash pickup and fallen trees as examples.

City staff presented the proposed budget for 2015 -- $705,820 less than what department heads requested -- in April.

The proposed budget includes spending cuts and tax increases to offset expected revenue losses of more than $940,000 combined for the current and next fiscal years.

City staff recommends cutting spending by about $167,500 for fiscal year 2014-2015, which begins July 1.

Among Smalls' ongoing concerns are the effects of not investing in repairs and upkeep of Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. He asked for money to replace pavers on the promenade and for painting, rust removal and replacing worn equipment.

Some of that was postponed last year when the city made cuts to balance the budget.

In an effort to lower mounting costs for maintaining the city's portion of the Spanish Moss Trail, Smalls wants to buy an attachment for the city's Bobcat machine so it be driven down the trail to cut grass.

"That's the most economic way we can do it," he said. "It won't be manicured, but it will be cut."

At an estimated $24,000 per mile annually -- based on the actual costs of the first mile -- the trail's three miles within the city could cost $72,000 a year to maintain.

Officials also are trying to make up for an anticipated $257,000 shortfall at the end of this fiscal year.

City manager Scott Dadson proposes a temporary 3.72 "deficit mill" to make up that amount. He also proposes the city raise the property-tax rate that is dedicated to debt service.

For a $150,000 property, the deficit mill would mean a hike of $22 a year. The debt-tax increase would tack on another $10 a year.

Dadson said the deficit tax isn't an increase, but a temporary measure to fix a revenue loss caused by the countywide reassessment and falling property values.

"(This puts) the mill value at the 'even-Steven' mark that we had prior to reassessment," he said.

Councilmembers discussed the politically driven practice of keeping tax rates down over the years, and how their hands are tied by state laws when it comes to increasing property taxes.

Councilwoman Donnie Beer said she has advocated for small increases over the years to prevent the tight finances the city now faces.

"I hate when I'm right, but I've been right for 23 years," she said.

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