City of Beaufort balances budget with no tax increase

    Beaufort’s 2012-13 budget avoids raising taxes, includes a 3 percent cost of living adjustment for employees, but eliminated a new fire truck or street sweeper, following action Tuesday night by Beaufort City Council.

    Responding to directions earlier this month by Council, the city administration axed the $400,000 fire truck and $155,000 street sweeper to help balance the budget after Council earlier this month nixed the idea of a $35 per private vehicle fee that would have raised $313,390. The administration also recommended using $28,680 of the City’s fund balance toward the $15,614,646 FY13 budget. Council unanimously approved the budget and the ordinance to levy taxes at 45 mills for the general fund operations and 15.62 mills for general obligation debt service. The tax rate stays the same.

    City Council will reconvene in mid-July to consider an increase in the stormwater management fee, currently at $65. The fee increase, if approved, could allow the City to adjust the budget if equipment needs to be bought.  “We have a new budget that addresses the City’s known needs for the next 12 months and that addresses our valued employees through a cost of living adjustment. We will come back next month to look at some additional capital needs and how we might pay for those,” said Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling.  “Right now we are able to balance this budget without a tax hike and with minimal impact to our taxpayers,” he said.

    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, Beaufort City Manager Scott 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 in early June.

    Included in the adopted budget is about $500,000 in needed capital investments, among them:

    • $162,753 for new police vehicles and equipment
    • $40,000 in street and sidewalk repairs
    • $14,749 in park improvements at Pigeon Point, Tic-Toc and Horse Hole parks
    • $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.

    “Accounting for $404,000 in the $15.6 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.

    “Beaufort enjoys a steady stream of interest in investing in the areas in which the Civic Master Plan has been adopted and where the City has invested its capital”, Dadson said.  Private investment in the Boundary Street area has also netted substantial investment in commercial projects such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants and a new McDonalds built to compliment the Boundary Street/Hwy 170 Realignment Project.

    The Boundary Street Redevelopment in late 2011 received a $12.6 million federal TIGER grant to compliment the $10 million in sales tax dollars for the project. This $21 million project is in the final phases of design and permitting and will go to public bidding in late 2012 with construction slated to start in 2013.