City gives first approval to budget without tax hike

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Beaufort’s proposed budget for 2012-13 provides a 3 percent cost of living increase for all qualified city employees but Beaufort City Council nixed the idea of a $35 fee for private vehicles registered within the city.
Instead, council directed to staff to find alternatives to the $313,390 that would have been raised by the vehicle fee.
Raising the city’s stormwater management fee from the current $65 to $105 is an option proposed by City Councilman Mike Sutton. Another option is to reduce capital expenditures such as new police and fire vehicles.
The $16,142,646 budget received first-reading approval Tuesday by City Council. Final review and voting is scheduled for June 26 at City Hall.
“This is a balanced budget, this is a sound budget, and this is a budget that takes care of the City of Beaufort,” City Manager Scott Dadson said. “There aren’t any ‘extras’ in it, but we tried to continue the momentum we’ve started.”
The city has enjoyed stable cost structures for the past several fiscal years due to austerity on the part of the City Council and department heads who have controlled costs in a challenging economic environment yet worked to improve service delivery at the customer level, Dadson said.
“These savings have allowed the city to re-invest in its self. The city has leveraged these savings into matching programs, grants, and intergovernmental agreements and is currently managing an estimated $24 million in capital investment throughout the city and has seen a rise in building permit activity, steady business license revenue, and hospitality and accommodations taxes,” he said.
Included in the budget on first reading, but subject to cuts in order to balance the budget, is almost $1.1 million in capital investments, among them:
• $162,753 for new police vehicles and equipment
• $400,000 for a new fire truck, carried forward from the 2012 budget
• $40,000 in street and sidewalk repairs
• $14,749 in park improvements at Pigeon Point, Tic-Toc and Horse Hole parks
• $215,000 for a new street sweeper and other stormwater projects
• $254,000 in capital needs associated with the Bladen Street and Duke Street improvements
• $11,000 for a new riding mower for the Public Works Department.
The proposed $35 vehicle fee would have been used to maintain the street rights of way, bike paths, sidewalks and public access easements throughout the city. Such vehicle fees aren’t uncommon in South Carolina. In recent years, Richland County levied a $20 per vehicle fee for road repairs.
But Sutton and others said the vehicle fee wasn’t fair because non-city residents use the streets and sidewalks without charge. Several city residents spoke against the fee during the council’s Tuesday night public hearing.
As part of the council’s vote, council members directed Dadson and his staff to seek new ways to balance the $16.1 million FY13 budget — either by making cuts or finding alternatives to raise the $313,390.
Accounting for $404,000 in the $16.1 million Beaufort budget are the cost of living adjustment and increased employer contributions to retirement systems, said Dr. Kim Foxworth, director of human resources for Beaufort.
Employer contributions to the State Retirement systems are increasing effective July 1. Employer contributions for the State Retirement System of South Carolina increased from more than 1 percent and the Police Officers Retirement System contributions increased from almost as much.
The impact of the cost of living adjustment and the increased contribution to the retirement systems is an increase of $403,961 to the salary and benefit budget.