Beaufort News

Port Royal budget proposal drops cost-of-living increases, dips into reserves

Port Royal town employees will not get a cost of living increase as originally planned -- one of multiple cutbacks officials said Wednesday are necessary to balance the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 without raising taxes.

Officials began looking for ways to close an expected shortfall of more than $250,000 last month, among them putting capital projects on hold, looking for additional savings and tapping into the town's reserves.

"We've tried to not raise the millage and have had to cut back on a number of things to balance the budget," Mayor Sam Murray said during a Town Council workshop Wednesday.

The town's proposed $4.7-million budget for the coming fiscal year is about 1.75 percent higher than the $4.6-million spending plan for 2010-2011, Town Manager Van Willis said.

Port Royal's takeover of day-to-day operations at the 11th Street shrimp dock account for much of the increase in expenditures, along with an approximate 13 percent hike in health care costs, Willis said.

In the latest version of the draft budget, Port Royal also would take $100,000 from savings to help close the shortfall, Willis said.

Town Council members are scheduled to have a final reading on the budget Wednesday.

In other action, Council:

  • Discussed briefly a proposal to create a committee that would study the feasibility of a new, joint fire station with Beaufort in the Mossy Oaks neighborhood that could serve as a headquarters for both municipalities.
  • Port Royal currently contracts with Beaufort on an ongoing basis for fire services.

    The proposed resolution asks the committee made up of town and city representatives to recommendations to both councils within 30 days.

    At least two council members said they had some reservations.

    "I think we have a lot of questions; it's going to take a lot of time and a lot of study,' Councilwoman Beth Heyward said, adding that 30 days likely isn't enough time to fully examine the issue.

    Councilman Vernon DeLoach said he's "not the least bit interested" in moving forward with a joint fire station.

    One resident with more than 20 years of emergency services experience also expressed concern.

    Dan Byrne, a Port Royal resident and firefighter with the Burton Fire Department, said as a taxpayer he would consider it "completely irresponsible" to give Beaufort money to build an additional fire station so close to the town's existing station on Paris Avenue.

    The town should also beware of any change that could impact Port Royal's insurance rating, said Byrne, who previously worked for the Beaufort Fire Department.

    Any extra money the town has for fire protection should go toward prevention services, he said.

    Beaufort Fire Chief Sammy Negron said the city is not considering anything that would negatively impact the city's or the town's insurance rating.

    Beaufort has about $1.5 million budgeted for a new station, with funds coming largely from general obligation bonds issued for the city's new municipal complex and upgrades to the fire department's existing headquarters, Negron has said.

    "Instead of building the station right now (on our own), I thought it was appropriate to at least sit down... and weigh the pros and cons of going into a joint fire station," Negron told council members Wednesday.