Council Discusses Potential Property Tax Increase For 2019-2020

Council Discusses Potential Property Tax Increase For 2019-2020

Council Discusses Potential Property Tax Increase For 2019-2020 Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 24 April 2019 16:26

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH -  The Carolina Beach Town Council met April 23rd, to review budget proposals from individual departments for the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget which begins July 1st. Near the end of the meeting the Council discussed the potential for a property tax increase. While no definite number was decided upon, Mayor Joe Benson said he would begin exploring a 3 cent increase early in the budget planning process in order to get feedback. 

The Council heard presentations from the Fire Department, Recreation Department and Planning Department. All three of those departments proposed increased spending in the next fiscal year. For example, the Fire Department is requesting funding for training, a cost of living pay raise for personnel, additional equipment and other expenditures. The Planning Department made requests for additional funding including hiring an intern and the replacement of two older vehicles that are continually breaking down. Those vehicles were passed to them after use in the Fire Department for many years.

The Parks and Recreation Department requested funding to maintain parks and facilities such as an aging concession stand at Mike Chappel Park, additional lighting for parks, field maintenance for sports, and future land acquisition for new parks and recreational activities.

Councilman Jodan Garza explained, "One of the things we spoke about last year that we've been very adamant about is to know what your budget is going to be and work within those lines. And currently as of right now we are $330,000 over what that line is which is a different perspective of how we wanted to start the budget process off this year. The thing is, not knowing this information before we came today is a little concerning. So we are not starting the process off the way the five of us had anticipated this. I have no idea what our revenue is even projected for this upcoming year which means we have no idea of where we are currently truly sitting at."

He explained, "Again, we are doing what we did last year. We are slightly working backwards. We are throwing out this huge wish list and we are not even presenting a projection of what we are going to make this year which was a bit of a sore to all of us because last year we said, hey, going into this budget season next year we want to make sure we start off knowing what we are going to bring in and how we can work within that realm."

Garza said, "After that, is it feasible that we need to start to increase taxes or to dip into funding if we see fit for what we need to. Again, I don't know where you guys sit but we are starting the same process that we did last year. To the residents, that's not fair."

Garza said Council told the finance officer and assistant town manager their concerns last year  and said, "Hey, we need to work this way, and we are starting off the other way. I'm not going to be here next week so I don't even know what's going to be out there so I need that paper work by Friday, end of business, so I can try to submit my information. Currently, $320,000 is where we are sitting at, which at the beginning you had said there is a possibility we are looking at two to three cent [increase] and this right here is where it's at. I'm not against any of it because I think some of these things are feasible and present it to the public, they would totally understand. But this is just three departments. If the other three add up to that, then it's ok. Where are we sitting and what should we do if we need to cut because ultimately nobody has presented" how to address potential cuts in the budget proposals.

Town Manager Lucky Narain said he will provide that information.

Garza said, "Information I want presented to us is this fiscal year, we did a lot of budget transferring. Budget transferring, we don't have to vote on it. We just need to know about it. To me that bothers me because I want to know total amounts that we transfer from every single fund to pay off other things in other funds because ultimately we are using money somewhere which means there  is a lot of fluff."

He explained, "Very eye catching at the last meeting when it came out to over $80,000 and somebody said we had that in there for the maintenance but we are going to use it over on this line item."

He explained, "I want to know the total amount of dollars from everything we transferred because that ultimately adds up as fluff. When you do budget stuff in reality for life you always want to budget a little bit of fluff because you will always have that 'oh hell what's going to happen' type of moment. So I totally understand we have to have a certain percentage that needs to be there" for unexpected expenditures during the fiscal year.

He explained, "I'd like to see the difference between those two. What the actual fluff was, what we transferred and then what the percentage you think will be the fluff for this coming year."

On property taxes, Garza explained, "I know we've spoken about possibly raising taxes two percent, maybe three. A very huge component of that is buying open space. I've been saying that for this past year and I think it's extremely important that we do it immediately because property values are skyrocketing and it's getting very limited. We were presented with a master plan last year from parks and rec so I think it's time we start pushing for that as well as" planning for the future of Freeman Park.

Council member Leann Pierce said, "Jodan and I agree I think 100% on this budget thing. Fluff is really hard for me and I understand that's the way budgets are done but I can't do fluff I need to see direct numbers. I would rather you just hit us and tell us exactly what we are talking about because it's frustrating for me to wrap my mind around. Just make it easy, make it simple. Because we are the ones that have to explain it to the citizens. So make it easy for us to do that. Make it easy for us to say this what this is for and this why we need this. I don't need all the extra bells and whistles. I love the vision that you guys have and you are working so hard and its awesome and it's not that we don't appreciate it, it's that we have to ask the questions that the citizens would ask. With that being said, don't take anything personal."

Councilman Tom Bridges said, "I have a lot of experience in my career as a principle and budget transfers are not..."

Garza chimed in and said, "Tom, when you say that, you make it seem like the rest of us do not. We all have done budgets in our life but when you start it off that way you undermine the rest of us on this council. So a good way to go about it is to say hey, 'in my experience."

Bridges said Pierce often mentions she owns a hotel and Garza often points to his retail experience adding, "So  please let me speak."

Garza said, "Check your tone Tom. All I'm saying is, when you word choice it that way you undermine everybody by making it seem like you have a higher..."

Bridges said, "When you have emergencies come up, just like in my own personal budget at home, I may have funding for a car but if my roof blows off suddenly I need to transfer the automobile fund to the roof because I need to protect my investment of the house. Same thing happens."

He explained, "Our staff has plenty of skills. If they have the decision to say, ok I have a budget over here but we are not going to spend it for that because we need it over here. We didn't anticipate this damage to the marina, then we need to fix that. It's not fluff, it's a conscientious  decision by the staff which we have selected to run this town and we need to allow them to do that and not question every little bitty expenditure because it's not fluff."

Narain said they will look at innovative cost cutting measures such as buying a golf cart for the planning department rather than $60,000 worth of vehicles for use when the weather is good to travel around town and utilize a truck when the weather isn't as favorable.

He said, "These are the strategies that we are pursuing to minimize that fluff or contingency as we call it in the budget world."

Mayor Joe Benson said, "One of the five items in the budget frame work that I provided at the January retreat... was a tighter projection of revenue and expenditures because it allows us on Council to perhaps avoid taking the long knives out on some of these items. And certainly your strategic perspective, Lucky, that you made clear today, is that personnel and benefits would override the other two and your priority."

He said, "Thank you for pointing out your desire to increase taxes. I know we've talked about that loosely. Maybe the possibility of. I'm in favor of, because it looks  like some of the defensible items are going to require that and since it's been seven or eight fiscal years, it probably makes sense. Because we are teasing a tax increase, I'm going to hold another Town Hall meeting in a couple of weeks. I'll either do it alone or one of the members of Council wants to do it with me, to go layout my perspective on a three point increase and how it is defensible."

He explained, "One of them was the police pay study which was presented as a means to catch the Town up to a [comparable] community. That was about one percent."

He said, "To link the tax increase to something concrete and defensible."

Benson requested information on what a three cent property tax increase would mean for a property valued at $300,000 to give the public an idea of what such an increase would equate to in a dollar mount.

Pierce explained Council ultimately have to vote on a tax increase and, "Nobody is saying we are going to have a tax increase or not" and, "We are just talking about the possibility and what it might go for and I think you'll find certain council members would only support it if it's going for maybe land purchases... we haven't gotten there yet."
Benson said, "If I don't talk about, and it doesn't get talked about and then June rolls around and people come to us and say instead fees or rates, what about taxes. So I want to tease that to the public that this is what I'm thinking. All of this is just me."

Narain said, "We are operating on a zero based budget... starting with nothing and increasing as needed. Again, our priorities... is to focus on health safety and welfare and with the welfare component of that is making sure that our workforce has competitive salaries. So that's where that pay study and all of that is coming from."

The Council will meet again on April 30th from 9am to 12pm at Town Hall in the Council meeting room at 1121 North Lake Park Blvd to consider budget proposals from the Police Department as well as the Public Works and Public Utilities Departments.

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