Beaufort City Council eliminated a $25-per vehicle fee Tuesday night, opting instead to cut an additional $180,000 from the $18-million 2014 budget while increasing property taxes and trash collection fees.
Property taxes could also go up by 4.32 percent, a move that would bring in an additional $142,000, city officials said.
"There's not a lot to say," said Councilwoman Donnie Beer, who has been in office for more than two decades. "We go through this every year -- 22 years, 22 budgets. I can promise you, I don't want to raise the budget. I don't want to raise my taxes. But we do have responsibilities, and I do want to keep our city looking as beautiful as it does. I don't want us to regress."
Trash collection rates would increase to $16.20 a month, up $2.70. That would raise an additional $136,000 and bring the fees in line with actual costs of the contract with Waste Pro, city officials said.
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Former councilman Frank Glover argued that the trash fee increase will hurt those who need money the most.
"The difference in cost might mean an extra drink for me, but there are people in the city who this might have an adverse affect on, and I think council should give serious consideration to those people," he said.
A second and final vote on the spending plan is expected Tuesday. The fiscal year begins July 1.
Council spent an hour shifting through the budget and hearing from residents at the special meeting Tuesday night.
Councilman George O'Kelley attempted to cut an additional $51,000 by eliminating salaries and benefits for councilmembers. Councilman Mike Sutton was the only other councilman to vote in favor of that idea.
Council members receive an annual stipend of $4,800 while the mayor receives $6,000. They can also choose to receive health benefits, which are budgeted at $21,644 for next year.
"You should serve on council because you have the ability and the desire to and you should not be here because of finances (the stipends)," Sutton said.
On Monday, city staff presented $184,000 in cuts to the original budget. Where the additional $180,000 will come from is to be worked out by staff and reviewed by council. Suggestions included cutting operating budgets or the 2-percent cost-of-living increase for city employees.
O'Kelley suggested returning to a practice in which councilmembers choose a department and met with its head to review individual budgets. That approach, he said, gave council a better understanding of increases and requests.
Councilman Mike McFee countered that he has confidence in staff to make judicious budgets and cuts as needed.
"I do believe we have the caliber of staff that can do the critiques of the budget instead of the brain trust of this council, which would be hysterical," he said.