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Carolina Beach Adopts Budget; No Tax Or Fee Increases

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council unanimously adopted a balanced budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year starting July 1 at their Tuesday June 11, meeting.
The budget includes no increase in the property tax rate or water and sewer fees and includes pay increases for employees.
Interim Town Manager Bruce Shell explained in his budget message to the Council, "The adopted property tax rate for Carolina Beach remains at 23.5 cents. The fiscal year 12-13 budget consists of a general fund of $9.1 million and a Tourism fund of $1.1 million for a combined total of $11 million. The fiscal year 13-14 combined general fund budget totals $11.2 million, a difference of $.2 million. After elimination of a $.4 million tourism fund transfer the difference represents an approximate $.6 million increase. This is due to a number of factors, primarily; employee 4% compensation increases, increased health care insurance of 7.9%, room occupancy activity increases of $59,000, Recreation Center improvements of $70,000, the addition of two new employees as well as the full-year impact of two employees hired during the previous year."
Shell explained, "The Town Council voted earlier in the year to combine the two funds. This budget, as required by general statutes, contains equal or balanced revenues with expenditures. Additionally, the Town operates a utility fund which will be addressed separately."
Shell explained some highlights of the budget include:
• Property tax rate remains the same at 23.5 cents
• Trash rates remain the same
• Room Occupancy tax activity fund increase of 59,000
• Expansion of Carolina Beach Fire Station (increase debt service)
• Recreation Center improvements of $70,000.
• Contingency amount of $50,000 at discretion of Town Council
• Health care increases of 7.9%
• Continued Powell Bill (streets) improvements of $183,000
• Downtown Boardwalk area maintenance of $20,000 (staff provided)
• Parking improvement to pay stations
Shell explained, "The Utility fund provides services for water, sewer, storm water, wastewater treatment, and the billing thereof. This enterprise fund, supported by fees (not taxes), has a balanced budget of $5.2 million. A rate increase is not included in this budget. The Utility fund relies upon indirect services from the General fund. A transfer for these services of $459,692 is included as an expense to this budget and corresponding revenue to the general fund. The Town Council initiated a water and sewer study several months ago which will serve as a plan for future improvements. Debt issuance is expected during the upcoming fiscal year but is not included in this budget. Accordingly, a public hearing with cost-benefit feasibility will be forthcoming with appropriate budget amendments. Rate increases are not expected."
He explained, "The economy in New Hanover County and the Town of Carolina Beach is improving. Unemployment has improved over the prior year from 9.1% to 8.8% for the Town and similarly for the County. Inspections revenues have increased 69% over the prior year with 81 new housing units through May as compared to 47 the prior year. Room Occupancy tax (second 3%) provides a measure of activity in Carolina Beach of hotel room sales. This measure of tourism activity indicates an increase of 9% over the prior year. Sales tax to the county (not available for the Town alone) indicate retail sales increase of 5.43% over the prior year. This analysis, while limited, supports a cautious but very optimistic outlook to the local economy."
For personnel, Shell explained, "At the approval of Council, I have hired a Director of Utilities and Capital Projects. Additionally, the budget includes two firefighters, the continuation of a School Resources Officer, and a Planning Projects position. The Director of Planning and Development has been made Assistant Town Manager. The Council approved a Social Media position, which will work part-time to educate the public on Town business. A new Parks and Recreation Director will be hired soon to fill the position recently vacated. The Human Resources Director position is vacant currently as the Town has employed outside consultants to provide this service. The Town Manager position is expected to be filled in July. The Town has a total of 94 full-time positions."
Shell explained the Town's Fund Balance reserves are strong and provides the Town with a strong financial position. He explained, "Fund balance for the prior audited year (Fiscal year 2012) indicated total reserves of $6.5 million; $5.1 million unrestricted. This represents an unrestricted position of 48% of annual expenditures. Projections for the current fiscal year 2013 support a continuation of this strong position. The Utility fund enjoys a strong fund balance as well. Total reserves are $5.4 million or 96% of total annual expenditures. Utility projections for FY13 support a continued strong fund balance. Fund balance is a measure of the government's ability to respond to an emergency. Carolina Beach enjoys a strong financial position."
He explained, "The Town has a modest amount of debt. The total general fund debt is $7.6 million; $8.8 million for Utility fund debt. This $16.4 million total debt is compared to its debt limit of $132 million, or 12.4% of its legal debt limit. The Town cannot issue more than 8% of its taxable appraised property. Additional debt is anticipated in the utility fund but not budgeted in the budget and will therefore be evaluated upon issuance."
Shell explained the Council approved replacing 18-gallon recycling containers with 96-gallon containers earlier this year at no cost to customers. The service is offered weekly or bi-weekly
Shell explained, "The Town received a one-time grant which enables the Town to hold the rate the same for fiscal year 2013-14. The previous container was 18 gallons."
For the Parks and Recreation Department, Shell explained, "The general fund budget includes $70,000 for renovations to the Recreation Center, located adjacent to Town Hall. This natural meeting place for the island will be rejuvenated with a new aerobics floor, modified space for a more efficient fitness facility, and fresh paint and carpet. The citizens can work out in a friendly, informative atmosphere dedicated to their health and physical improvement. This is an opportunity for renewed excitement with an elevated focus on the customer."
Beach nourishment funding has been a long-standing issue for Town and County leaders.
Shell explained, "Beach re-nourishment and prevention of damage to private property is a priority of the Town. Freeman Park fees were increased January 1, 2013 to provide reserves for future support of sand on the beaches. This Park, located in the northern part of the island, is supported by Town police, public works, and ocean rescue. The increased" vehicle access fee, "provides funding for Town matching funds for Storm Damage Prevention.  The current funding is typically 65% federal with the remaining funds coming from State and local. New Hanover County government serves as the fiduciary for a room occupancy tax fund, which provides the local match for Carolina, Kure, and Wrightsville Beaches. Carolina Beach has taken steps for this first annual effort to provide future funding in the event that federal and state funding is nonexistent."
Shell explained the Wilmington Beach Project has been completed and the Council will begin the process of assessing property owners. He explained, "This project which began several years ago, provided for storm water and street (paving) improvements to the southern part of the Town limits. This $4.2 million project was annexed by agreement after New Hanover County installed water and sewer to the area. Since a portion of the project is funded by special assessment of the property owners; public hearings with final accounting to the residents will begin in the coming weeks. Discounted lump sum payments and financing arrangements will be offered to taxpayers located in the improved area. The Town paid for approximately 1/3rd of the cost."
Shell explained the budget includes funding to monitor the Carolina Beach Lake and, "The Town continues to study options for long-term improvements of this storm water and quality of life amenity." The lake serves as a drainage basin for a large area of Town and hosts many popular events throughout the year.
Shell explained the Town will close their Fleet Maintenance garage on July 1, and begin contracting with local garages for vehicle inspections and maintenance.
He explained, "The Town has a Police force of 30 officers, 7 full-time firemen, and responsibilities for water, sewer, waste water, storm water, beach maintenance, harbor, planning and inspections, event administration, parks and recreations, public works, Boardwalk maintenance, and other miscellaneous duties. These services are supported by vehicles and equipment. The lease the Town has had with the Army (MOTSU) has been terminated, requiring the Town to provide other means for maintaining essential vehicles and equipment."
The Town's lease with the Army is for land off Dow Road. The 1970's lease says the land can only be used for a wastewater treatment plant and other limited associated uses. The Army is requiring the Town to remove the garage and other uses to comply with the lease.
For the Boardwalk Park, Shell explained, "Carolina Beach established a boardwalk in the late 1880s. After a tragic fire, the Boardwalk was rebuilt in the mid 1940s. The current Boardwalk consists of a wooden and concrete walkway that parallels the business district and beach strand. The Town has 31 beach access points. This special tradition, coupled with recent improvements is one of Carolina Beach's charms. The word is getting out on Carolina Beach! Last year, Carolina Beach supported 43 events! These events included 5K runs, Farmers Market, Arts and Activities, Beach Music festivals, or Thursday night fireworks at the beach."
He explained, "The Town Council plans to create a family oriented WOW in a coastal business district that supports entertainment, commerce, arts and activities, a hiking/biking trail, all supported by the business district with access to the beach. The concept is the provision of added positive family experience that pays for itself as an economic engine that floats all boats. This $2 million project is supported by grants, potential loans, and Town reserves."
Shell explained the Town Council has provided funding this fiscal year to plan for a Community Pool. He explained a committee was formed to evaluate the feasibility and report to the Council for potential funding approval.
He explained Tuesday night the budget does not include funding for that project which will be considered and evaluated on its merits at a later date.
Shell explained, "It has been a pleasure to work with Carolina Beach as its Interim Manager and the preparation of this fiscal year 2013-14 budget. I am grateful to have had the opportunity of working with Carolina Beach officials who possess vision for the benefit of its citizens, supported by a professional staff.