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Carolina Beach Council Receives Budget; No Tax Or Fee Increases

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council held a public hearing to take input on the proposed 2013-2014 budget which starts July 1. The Council will hold another public hearing on June 11th to take further public input and then adopt it before the deadline of June 30th.
The proposed budget calls for no property tax or utility fee increases.
Interim Town Manager Bruce Shell explained the General Fund budget is balanced at $11,199,164. Property tax rates will remain the at 23.5 cents per $100 of property value. Sales tax projections are increased based on experience. Trash rates will remain the same, mostly due to a recycling grant which pays for most of the increase and helps to pay for new 96-gallon recycling containers to replace the previous 18-gallon containers.
He explained Trash expenditures include an annual increase from Waste Industries, however, increases are absorbed in the proposed budget.
He explained, "Freeman Park revenues, the rate went up on that in January from $60 to $100 and its anticipated that will generate more revenue and in that analysis we have capped the revenue going into the General Fund at $850,000 with the remainder estimated at $350,000 going into a separate fund which Mrs. Johnson will account for in the Town's balance sheet to keep track of that for beach renourishment or what is now called Storm Damage Prevention."
Shell said a fund balance appropriation of $40,462 is recommended to balance the budget as compared to taking $254,444 from reserves to balance the budget for the current year. Also, a contingency fund of $50,000 was factored in to be used at the discretion of Council for expenditures that arise throughout the year.
Shell explained tax revenues generated by Room Occupancy Tax collections is anticipated to increased by $59,000 next fiscal year.
Employees will see a 2 percent merit and 2 percent cost of living pay increase. Health insurance costs will rise by 7.9 percent.
$70,000 has been allocated for improvements to the Town's Recreation Center behind Town Hall. $35,000 is budgeted for fire station improvements and an additional $112,000 is budgeted in debt service for a $1.3 million dollar fire station expansion and renovation project.
The proposed budget also reclassifies the Planning Director position to include Assistant Manager in the title, a permanent Grants Project Manager position and a full year School Resource Officer within the Police Department to serve at the Carolina Beach Elementary School. Also, two new positions within the Fire Department.
Those fire positions will focus on improved response times with less pressure on limited volunteers. The vacant Human Resources Director position is funded in the proposed budget but currently on hold pending additional analysis.
$20,000 is included for Boardwalk maintenance to be taken over by Town employees.
$10,000 is budgeted for electronic agendas and streaming live video on the Internet for public viewing.
Shell explained, "Fleet maintenance is budgeted close to the prior year. I am proposing a change in the budget structure creating a non-departmental account as well as budgeting debt service in one rather than multiple accounts" to make it easier to track the Town's debt service.
He explained, "A community pool, currently under feasibility analysis, will be evaluated separately from this budget."
Under the separate Utility Fund, Shell explained, "The enterprise fund is not supported by tax dollars but rather by rates. The fund includes water, sewer, wastewater and storm water operations. The Utility Fund is balanced at $5,241,945. A rate increase is not included in this budget. As discussed in the General Fund, a larger transfer is anticipated from the Utility Fund to the General Fund based upon an indirect cost analysis."
The indirect cost analysis provides for a transfer of $459,692 from the Utility Fund for services provided by the General Fund. This is an increase over the $300,000 transfer in fiscal year 2012-2013" and will be audited at the end of fiscal year 2014. The indirect cost analysis focused on what portions of Town Hall operations are used to service operations within the Utility Fund.
Shell explained, "I have increased budgeted utility revenues due to billing and meter installation enhancements. Additional revenue enhancements are anticipated once the automated meter project is completed."
The Town is working on a project to replace customers water meters to meters that can be read from Town Hall and are more accurate than older meters. Increased accuracy is expected to generate increased revenues without raising rates.
Shell explained, "Analysis of billing records is on-going and will reflect continued enhancement of revenue generation as well. Results of these studies will be provided to the Council in the near future. The automated meter project is ready as we await zero interest federal funding. The May 14, 2013 agenda includes a minority business policy adoption which is required to receive" the zero interest loan for the project. That is expected to save the Town over $200,000 over a ten-year period.
He explained, "The secondary sewer force main project, estimated at $900,000 is underway as surveying work has begun. Additional water and sewer projects will be presented at the June 11, 2013 meeting for Council consideration and possible funding."
Those include replacing old water and sewer lines throughout the residential areas of Town to improve water quality and reduce rainwater infiltration into the sewer system. All projects in total are estimated to cost approximately $15 million dollars. The Council hopes to begin a first phase starting in the fall of this year.
Shell explained, "I have included a "Utilities Director and Capital Projects" position in this budget as well. This position should provide direct guidance to the Manager and Council as well as guidance to the staff. The current director will accept an Assistant Director position and will assist the Director with operations and capital projects as the Town moves forward towards implementation."
He explained, "These projects will be presented to the Council on a case-by-case basis outlining the benefits, costs, and impacts. A rate increase is not anticipated at this time. Contracted services are increased by $30,000 for pond retention services in" the Storm Water Department.
Shell explained, "I have separated debt service as a separate department within this fund as well for ease of analysis. An increase of $42,601 is included for cost of living and merit pay increases. Fleet Maintenance, separated in the General Fund and Utility Fund, is budgeted consistently at prior year levels of $253,529 General Fund and $162,159 in the Utility Fund. A clean water grant of $570,000 is funded with a match of $285,000. This project is currently under review and will be reported to the Council."
Shell explained, "I reviewed capital outlay with the Department Head Committee. I have recommended funding of water and sewer equipment requests but have not supported all of the vehicle replacement requests. I do not recommend financing the purchase of assets with a short life. Certainly, when budgets are tight there are times when this cannot be avoided. I support a pay as you go approach on the purchase of vehicles. That is included in this budget."
He explained, "The Town enjoys a strong fund balance in the General and Utility Funds. Future grants, projects and other opportunities are many  but are not included in this budget."
The Town has a reserve fund in the General Fund of just over $5.7 million projected by the end of this fiscal year.
For the Utility Fund, the reserve is a little over $5.7 million. The Stormwater Fund also has a reserve around $300,000.
Mayor Bob Lewis explained, "There's a difference between the tax rate and property taxes. Three members of this Council were on Council last year and we fought
for the citizens to pull out $600,000 out of last years budget to reduce property taxes in Carolina Beach by almost $540,000.
The previous year we collected $4.3 million dollars in property taxes. We anticipate this year would be $3.8 million... So really there's a $500,000 overall tax reduction across the board."
Lewis said they actually wanted a lower rate but had to fight to get the current tax rate.
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said as debt on various projects over the years is retired and paid in full, the Town can hold the line on taxes and still finance new projects. Also, the Town has been putting away money each year in reserves for utility infrastructure projects.
The debt for the recently completed Wilmington Beach paving and drainage project will be partly funded by assessments to property owners.
The proposed budget will be made available on the Town's website at www.carolinabeach.org as well as in printed form at Town Hall and the Public Library on Cape Fear Blvd.