Hilton Head Island Town Council has endorsed a $70 million budget for 2012-13 that includes a 2-percent merit pay increase for staff and maintains existing service levels without raising property taxes.
Council voted unanimously on the first reading of the budget during its meeting Tuesday. The spending plan takes effect July 1, following expected final adoption at council's June 19 meeting.
The budget includes large drops in spending for debt and public improvements. The town's millage rate, which council increased last year from 18.54, would remain at 19.33.
The proposed $70-million budget is nearly $35 million less than the town's current consolidated budget of $105 million, which includes a stormwater utility.
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Spending on general operations would dip slightly from $33.6 million budgeted this year to $33.2 million next year.
Staff is awaiting the results of an economic-impact study on a new commercial district at Coligny and council guidance concerning what the panel hopes to accomplish.
Planners also await the council's plans for pathways and board walks at a 1 1/2-mile long park that would link Shelter Cove and the beach, according to town manager Steve Riley. "Bigger-picture concepts," such as an aquatics center, could be pursued after the path and boardwalk work is completed, he said.
The town faces a December 2014 deadline to commit about $13 million from a special tax district for parks, roads, pathways, boardwalks, parking, drainage and landscaping. Riley has reminded council during the last two years that time is running out.
"We tried to move too fast and need to back up and get the studies in (on Coligny) and scale back on Chaplin Linear Park as a first phase," he said. "We need to lay the spine (for the linear park) to make that link from Shelter Cove to the beach, but not preclude anything."
Mayor Drew Laughlin said he's anxious for the council to decide how to use that money.
"We need to come to some agreements pretty quick," Laughlin said last week. "We've got to turn the discussion into action. We're at that time. With Coligny, we're still discussing broad concepts."