Beaufort residents could get a triple-hit of higher bills next year as City Council considers a vehicle fee, higher trash rates and a rise in property taxes to bring in more money.
The fees and increased taxes won't be enough, however, to meet projected expenses for next year, so $184,000 in cuts are also being considered. Reductions are being discussed for park maintenance, information technology, codes enforcement, the fire department and vehicle maintenance.
City staff presented the recommendations Monday during a budget work session at City Hall.
The city is concerned about a possible deficit of $600,000 to $700,000 caused by a combination of factors -- including the end of a special tax district downtown and an anticipated reduction in property values from the countywide reassessment, city manager Scott Dadson said.
A more accurate number on the drop in property values should be available in August, when Beaufort County releases the results of its reassessment.
Dadson had recommended two new fees, but one -- a public-service fee for entities such as churches, nonprofit organizations, schools and Beaufort Memorial Hospital -- raised protests and appears to be dead.
That fee would have been equal to 0.1 percent of a property's assessed value and would have raised about $301,000 a year. Council members did not seem interested in pursuing it further during a meeting Tuesday.
Less fuss has been made about a $40 transportation fee that Dadson recommended be levied on all vehicles registered in the city. That fee would bring in about $320,000 annually.
However, the proposal for the fee has been lowered to $25, which would bring in about $180,000, according to Monday's presentation.
Resident Edie Rodgers continued to oppose the transportation fee and said the city could make additional cuts to avoid it.
"I think there are still some places that you all could take your pencils to and not have to do that transportation tax," she said.
The budget also includes a proposal to increase trash collection rates to $16.20 per month, a rise of $2.70. That would raise an additional $136,000 and bring the fees in line with actual costs of the contract with Waste Pro.
Property taxes could also go up, if City Council chooses to raise them by 4.32 percent. That would bring in an additional $142,000.
"The increase in property tax, I think that's just the reality of what we need to do," Mayor Billy Keyserling said.
Negotiations with contractors could lead to $28,000 in savings on information technology. Another $20,000 could be cut from maintaining the Spanish Moss Trail and from pruning and protecting live oaks in rights of way.
Public Works has agreed to cut $15,000 dedicated to maintaining its older sweeper and in engineering and survey cost.
The fire department has agreed to again defer $41,000 in non-critical costs such as dress uniforms and building maintenance, including new mattresses and bed frames.
The biggest problem, Keyserling said, is the city is maintaining streets the state owns and parks the greater community uses but doesn't pay for, especially the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. He is concerned maintenance of the rail trail, to be built between Beaufort and Port Royal, also could become a similar expense. Council wants to work with the county, one of its partners on the project, to minimize future landscaping and maintenance costs of the trail.
Councilwoman Donnie Beer cautioned about cutting too much.
"We didn't benefit anything from cutting back, cutting back and cutting back," she said of previous lean years. "... I look at this as a way to run the city and keep up a level that we've gotten used to, and I think we deserve it."
The trash and vehicle fees will be discussed during a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Council will vote on the budget afterward. A final vote is expected June 25.
- Public opposes proposed Beaufort City Council fee for nonprofits, churches, schools, hospital, June 11, 2013
- New fees recommended for city of Beaufort car drivers, non-profit organizations, May 15, 2013
- In Beaufort, questions raised over proposed fee for churches, schools, nonprofit groups, June 1, 2013