Beaufort residents probably won't face the $35 vehicle fee city officials considered earlier this year. Members tabled a proposal to add the road-service fee to all vehicles registered in the city, which would have brought in about $313,390.
However residents could face other fees -- or reduced services -- to balance the city's 2012-13 budget, which begins July 1.
City council unanimously approved the first reading of that $16.1 million budget at a meeting Tuesday night. It doesn't increase property taxes.
Staff was told to find other options to reduce a $556,680 shortfall in the city's fund balance, or savings, needed to balance the budget.
"We are at a time in the city's history when we have to fund the services we provide or not provide those services," Councilman Mike Sutton said.
He supports looking harder at increasing stormwater maintenance fees. A May presentation by city staff showed increasing residential fees to $105 a year from $65 would bring in about $263,547 and cover the cost of stormwater maintenance.
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.
At the heart of the issue is the cost of maintaining roads and rights-of-way, many of which are state owned. City manager Scott Dadson estimated it costs about $250,000 a year more than fees bring in.
The city has been maintaining the roads and rights-of-way to improve the quality of life in the city and stave off stormwater drainage issues caused by debris and vegetation, Mayor Billy Keyserling said.
Resident Angela Hegstrom was one of half a dozen residents who spoke out against the vehicle fee, especially because the city is paying to maintain state roads.
"I do think this is the state's bill and I think ... you should send the state a bill. And the county for any service you provide," she said.
Finance director Kathy Todd said it is possible to cut the full $556,680 from the budget, but she does not want the city to dip into its savings more than necessary until the financial climate improves.
A second and final reading of the budget is scheduled for June 26.