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Carolina Beach To Hold Budget Meeting June 6th

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council will hold a special budget workshop on Friday, June 6, 2014 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. in the Conference Room located at Town Hall at 1121 North Lake Park Blvd, Carolina Beach.
The Council will discuss the proposed budget presented by Town Manager Michael Cramer prior to holding a public hearing and adopting the budget later this month. The Council has held several budget meetings and a public hearing to take input on the budget proposal in recent months.
According to a draft budget message delivered to Mayor and Council last week, Town Manager Michael Cramer explained, "The adopted property tax rate for Carolina Beach remains at 23.5 cents.  With the adoption of the Fiscal Year 13-14 budget the Town Council voted to combine two funds, the General Fund and the Tourism Fund.  The combined total of the budgets for FY 13-14 of approximately $11.2 million.  The Adopted Budget for Fiscal Year 14-15 for the combined General Fund is approximately $12.2 million, which represents an approximate $1 million increase.  This is due to a number of factors, primarily; a 2% employee COLA and up to a 3% merit compensation increase, increased capital equipment and project purchases, the addition of one new employees as well as the full-year impact of several employees pay discrepancies during the previous year."
Cramer explained the Council set six budget goals at a retreat in January. Those include:
1.) Retain General Fund Fund Balance at 50% or more,
2.) Reduce Operating Budget by 10%,
3.) Continue to fund On-going Capital Improvement Projects,
4.) Focus on Dredging and Storm Damage Reduction Funding,
5.) Identify New Revenue Sources,
6.) Focus on Staff Compensation.
Cramer explained, "This budget, as required by general statutes, contains equal or balanced revenues with expenditures.  Along with the General Fund Budget the Town also operates a Utility Fund which is addressed separately."
Cramer explained the following are notable results for the Fiscal Year 14-15 general fund:
•Property tax rate remains the same at 23.5 cents
•Residential Trash rates remain the same, some  commercial trash rates were increased
•Increased Replacement of Equipment and Vehicles
•Recreation Center Improvements of $73,000
•$350,000 dedicated to Storm Damage Reduction  and $35,000 dedicated to Inlet Dredging
• Continued Powell Bill (streets) improvements of  $178,000 and Signs and Signal Replacements $33,000
•Investment in Staff Efficiency Improvements of  $178,600
•Improved Management of Freeman Park through  Community Impact Unit
•Account Structure Reorganization for improved reporting and transparency.
Cramer explained, "The Utility fund provides services for water, sewer, storm water, wastewater treatment, and the billing thereof.  This enterprise fund, is supported by fees (not taxes), and has a balanced budget of $6.5 million.  Last fiscal year the Utility Fund supported a balanced budget of $5.2 million.  The additional $1.3 million budget increase is due to two main activities; debt service and capital improvements.  The Town Council initiated a water and sewer study last year which serves as a plan for future infrastructure improvements.  In order to fund the upcoming infrastructure improvements Debt issuance is expected during the upcoming fiscal year and is included in this budget. A rate increase of 5% is included in this budget.  The rate increase is expected to increase the typical residential water and sewer bill by .06 cents per day or approximately $1.85 per month.  The Utility fund relies upon indirect services from the General fund.  A transfer for these services of $600,000 is included as an expense to this budget and corresponding revenue to the general fund."
He explained, "The economy in New Hanover County and the Town of Carolina Beach is improving.  Unemployment has improved over the prior year from 8.8% to 6.2% for the Town and similarly for the County.  Inspections revenues have continued to increase at a rate of 12% over the prior twelve months with 93 new housing units through May as compared to 81 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 3.56% over the prior year.  Sales tax to the county (not available for the Town alone) indicate retail sales continue to increase over the prior year.  This analysis, while limited, supports a cautious but very optimistic outlook to the local economy."
Cramer said with Council approval he will hire a Code Enforcement Officer to ensure code compliance such as property maintenance and public activities.
He explained, "Last year the Council approved a Social Media position, who worked part-time to educate the public on Town business.  This year the duties of this position will be consolidated with the duties of the vacant Deputy
Clerk position in order to provide support services to the Clerk and public communication from the Town Manager.  The Town has a total of 103 full-time equivalent positions."
Cramer explained, "Reserves for the general fund are strong.  Fund balance for the prior audited year (FY12-13) indicated total reserves of $5.8 million; $5.5 million unrestricted.  Once loan revenue for the Fire Station Expansion Project is removed this represents an unrestricted position of 51% of annual expenditures.  Projections for the current FY13-14 year support a continuation of this strong position with the consolidation of the General Fund and Tourism Fund reserves for an estimated combined reserve fund of $7.9 million.  The Utility fund enjoys a very strong fund balance as well.  Total reserves are $7.1 million or approximately 169% of estimated annual expenditures.  With the strong fund balance in the Utility Fund the town will be able to help contribute to the increased debt service and capital project improvements and lessen the water and sewer fee increase for fiscal year 2014-2015.  Fund balance is a measure of the government’s ability to respond to an emergency.  Carolina Beach enjoys a strong financial position."
With several large water and sewer infrastructure projects either underway or planned for the near future, the Town is gearing up to fund those long-term debts.
Cramer explained, "The Town has a modest amount of debt.  The total general fund debt is $3.5 million; $8.4 million for Utility fund debt.  This $11.9 million total debt is compared to its debt limit of $171 million, or approximately 7% 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 in future years to coincide with additional infrastructure improvements.
In other areas of interest, Cramer explained recycling is a priority for the Council. In his budget message he explained, "In April 2014, the Town received a grant for additional recycling container for use in the Boardwalk District.  We anticipate delivery of the 18 new recycling containers to arrive in July 2014.  These containers are intended to encourage more visitors to recycle while visiting Carolina Beach."
For the Parks and Recreation Department, Cramer explained, "The general fund budget includes $73,000 for continued renovations to the Recreation Center, located adjacent to Town Hall.  This natural meeting place for the island will be rejuvenated with new restroom and locker room facilities, a remodeled cardio room and new upstairs windows.  The citizens can work out in a friendly, informative atmosphere dedicated to their health and physical improvement.  This project is an opportunity to continue the excitement started last year and will elevate our services to our customers.  Along with new facilities, we will be adjusting our fee schedule for memberships and activities that take place at the Recreation Center.  We expect to raise approximately $93,000 of additional revenue to help support our existing and enhanced programs and facilities."
One of the top issues for Council is how to ensure funding will be available for future beach nourishment projects.
Cramer explained, "Beach re-nourishment and prevention of damage to private property is a priority of the Town.  Freeman Park fees were increased in 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 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.  Beginning with the FY 2013-2014 budget the Town of Carolina Beach has taken steps to budget up to $350,000 per year to provide funding in the event that federal and state funding is non-existent. We have once again factored this contribution into the general fund budget for FY 2014-2015."
Cramer explained the Wilmington Beach Project began several years ago and provided for storm water and street (paving) improvements to the southern part of the Town limits.
He explained, "This $4.2 million project was annexed by agreement after New Hanover County installed water and sewer to a portion of 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 were held in April and May this year.  This year’s budget contains anticipated revenue from the assessments.  To encourage early payment a property owner can receive a $500.00 discount if the assessment is paid within 30 days.  Financing arrangements will be offered to taxpayers located in the improved area who choose not to take advantage of the discount."
For infrastructure projects, Cramer explained, "The Town continues to move forward with the Phase 1 A Infrastructure Improvement Project. The project consists of replacement of water, sewer, force main, raw water, stormwater and street infrastructure on Cape Fear Blvd, Clarendon Ave. and 5th Street between Cape Fear and Clarendon.  The project is intended to start on June 16th and scheduled to be complete in April 2015."
The Council will discuss the budget proposal and any potential adjustments at their June 6th, meeting at Town Hall.