As city of Beaufort staff continues to pare down budget requests for next year, some officials and residents remain leery of a proposal to add an annual $35-per-vehicle fee to make up a budget shortfall.
The road-service fee for all vehicles registered in Beaufort is designed to partially offset a potential $556,680 dip into the city's fund balance, or savings, to balance the $16.1 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1.
"Trying to hide that expense ... is probably not the best way to do it," resident Paul Michau said.
He favored using a traditional tax increase. Showing residents the benefits they receive vs. the costs of road cleaning and repair might make them see that otherwise they could be sweeping their own streets, he said.
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Councilman Mike McFee pointed out that the proposed car fee would be spread out among a greater number of residents, whereas a property tax increase only effects a portion of them.
"If you are registered in the city and you aren't a property owner in the city, you still pay the same (fee)," he said.
Councilman Mike Sutton asked staff to continue looking into other revenue options, including stormwater fees.
City manager Scott Dadson said if the per-household stormwater fee was raised from $65 a year to $105, it would cover the cost of stormwater maintenance.
If adopted, the vehicle fee would bring in about $313,390. The stormwater fee increase, on the other hand, would raise an additional $263,547.
Sutton also asked that the stormwater fee structure be reviewed since businesses and second home owners pay higher rates. Sutton said that approach "shelters" full-time residents from the increases.
Among additional expenses in the budget is a 3-percent cost-of-living increase for employees that, combined with a hike in state retirement fund contributions, adds up to about $403,961.
The Beaufort/Port Royal Fire Department is asking for a $400,000 engine while the Public Works Department wants a $155,000 street sweeper.
Sutton wants staff to look into contracting out street sweeping to see if it's cheaper. He was concerned about investing in the sweeper, which he said has a short life.
Councilman George O'Kelley suggested the city undertake more preventative measures to extend the life of vehicles such as that, such as making sure residents bag debris instead of scattering it on the roads.
"Maybe some enforcement would save some of our equipment and give it a longer shelf life," he said.
A public hearing and first reading on the proposed budget is scheduled for June 12. The final vote will be June 26.