Bluffton residents can expect a lower property tax bill from the town in the coming year.
The Bluffton Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the town’s new 2018 fiscal year budget.
The roughly $37 million budget includes a property tax cut of about 4 percent, made possible by growth and rising property values, town leaders say.
The reduction in tax is expected to save a full-time owner of a home valued at $250,000 about $20 a year.
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This is the second time in as many years that Bluffton was able to lower property taxes. Taxes were lowered by roughly the same rate in fiscal year 2017 as they were in the newly approved budget.
Despite the lower tax rate, “we knew that we needed to improve our core services and existing programs,” town manager Marc Orlando said.
Bluffton officials were pleased by efforts to balance the budget and maintain service levels without a tax hike.
Town staffers “did a really good job,” Mayor Lisa Sulka said.
Councilman Fred Hamilton said “the budget is well done” but added that it may be worth revisiting in the future to bolster programs for affordable and workforce housing.
“All over the county and all over the region, there is a cry for affordable housing,” he said.
Councilman Larry Toomer echoed the importance of an increased focus on housing in the coming fiscal year.
“We need to step out into the water a little deeper to address the issue,” he said.
While Bluffton is reducing property taxes, Beaufort County’s taxes have been on the rise in recent years.
The largest portion of Bluffton’s budget is the town’s nearly $19 million general fund, which pays employees salaries and bankrolls much of the government’s operations including the Bluffton Police Department.
“Principal sources of revenue (for the general fund) are property taxes and licenses and permit fees,” town documents show.
The new budget includes funding for adding two new positions to the town’s overall workforce of about 130 full-time employees.
In addition to investing in employee training, Orlando said the town is working “to become more efficient using technology.”
The budget includes nearly $13 million for capital improvement projects.
Major projects planned to start in the 2018 fiscal year include the construction of a dog park at Oscar Frazier Park, upgrades at Oyster Factory Park, and new facilities aimed at making the May River more accessible, town documents show.
The town’s roughly $1.5 million stormwater fund and the approximately $2.3 million pot of money used to pay down long-term debt make up the remainder of the newly approved budget.
While the new budget shrank slightly compared to the 2017 fiscal year, the town’s budget — much like its population — has trended upward in recent years, more than doubling since 2012.
The 2018 fiscal year begins July 1.