Bluffton Town Council took another step toward approving a proposed $16.3-million budget for the upcoming fiscal year Monday.
Town manager Anthony Barrett, who drafted the budget and submitted it May 8 to council, guided council members through its key stipulations and changes from the current year.
The budget would maintain existing services and increase staff slightly, without a property tax increase.
The only change to provoke scrutiny during the review was a proposed 3-percent "cost-of-living" raise for the town's 99 employees -- the first such increase in four years.
The raise would cost about $90,000 and begin in the first pay period of December.
Councilman Michael Raymond agreed in principle with the raise, but questioned whether it should apply uniformly to all employees.
"I guess I would prefer to see us look at the jobs on a case-by-case basis, rather than just say everybody's going to get a raise just because they work here," he said.
"This keeps all the inequalities in place. Those that are making too little are still making too little, and those that are making too much are still making too much."
Barrett characterized the raise as a mechanism for retaining the town's skilled workforce. "I think the employees work hard," he said. "They produce, and I think they should be rewarded."
Mayor Lisa Sulka agreed.
"I think it shows that we value what they do," she said. "Times are changing. ... I support it 100 percent. I wish we could do more."
The budget also seeks money for May River water-quality improvements, continued streetscape upgrades in Old Town, and sewer line extensions on Buck Island Road.
Unlike previous budgets, the proposal creates a fund for stormwater operations that includes everything from employee costs to related capital spending. That fund would be $1.87 million, compared to $2.56 million for capital improvements and $10.51 million for the general fund.
The proposal is almost 9 percent less than the current budget of about $17.8 million, a decrease town staff attributed to lower spending on capital improvements.
Council members are expected to make final changes and adopt the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget June 12. It will take effect July 1.
Other budget highlights:
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