The Surfside Beach's town council on Tuesday night tried to pass first reading of next year’s budget but came up short.
The proposed budget, that has to be approved before July 1, includes a 4-mil property tax increase and a transfer of $169,000 from the town’s reserve fund in order to be balanced, which is required by town law.
Most councilmembers hesitantly said they were OK with the millage hike, but it was the money coming from the town’s reserves that was more concerning.
After several failed motions to balance the budget without the fund transfer, the council gave up on passing first reading this week and opted to try again at a later meeting.
Town finance director Diana King said the 2023-24 budget would have a general fund of $10.1 million. Forty percent of the revenue will come from various taxes. She said the biggest expenditures in the budget are for public safety, which makes up 45% of the budget.
It also calls for a 5% cost-of-living raise for all town employees along with new employees for most departments and $100,000 for a forensic audit of the town’s finances.
The millage increase would bring the town’s total millage rate from 43 mils to 47 mils. Each mil would add an additional $80,000 to the town’s coffers or $320,000 total additional funds. For a $500,000 home in Surfside Beach, the rate hike would mean an extra $80 on a resident’s tax bill.
Former interim town administrator and current fire chief Rob Clemons said no one wants to hear about raising taxes, but each department had presented justifications for the increase.
During the initial public hearing on the budget, town resident Harry Kohlmann urged the council not to hesitate on raising the millage in order to provide better public safety for the town.
“It’s an increase of 20 cents a day for extra safety of the town,” he said. “As for the $100,000 forensic audit, unless you know something, it’s a waste of money. If you know something bad, go to SLED.”
Councilmember William Kinken said he did not like the idea of using town savings to pay for daily expenses.
“We should not budget taking money out of our reserves to balance the budget,” Kinken said. “Take out the forensic audit and one new employee and we won’t have to take anything out of the reserves.”
Suggesting taking a new firefighter position from the budget, councilmember Chris Stamey said that move and removing the forensic audit would alleviate the need for taking from the reserves.
Putting on his fire chief hat, Clemons said the town now has only two regular firefighters on a truck to handle emergency situations. He said the council would have to understand they would be making that an acceptable risk if they do not add another firefighter. Stamey later changed his motion to make it a removal of one new person, not necessarily a firefighter.
He and Kinken’s motions were not passed.
Councilmember Michael Drake said he had a simple solution that would get rid of the need for a millage increase and from taking money from the town’s savings.
“Currently, we charge two dollars per hour to park,” Drake said. “We can add two more dollars and put up signs saying the extra two dollars is going to fund public safety. The tourists will gladly pay it and this will be more than enough for the budget.”
Others reminded Drake that it would take changing town ordinances to allow parking money to go into the town’s general fund and that process would take too long. Drake said the council could call special meetings immediately to get that done. His motion did not pass the council, either.
Mayor Bob Hellyer said he wanted the budget to include the forensic audit that had been asked for four years ago.
“I’m for that,” Hellyer said. “If nothing else to clear anybody of any wrongdoing.”
Councilmember Cindy Keating said the council voted last October to put out a Request For Proposal to find a forensic auditor.
“Nobody followed through and that’s unacceptable for the staff of the town,” she said.
King reminded the council that once the pier is completed, funding such as Accommodations Tax money that has been going toward building the pier can be used for police and firefighter positions later in the fall.
The council decided to hold a special workshop to iron out any of the concerns presented Tuesday night and try to get a first-reading approval of the budget at its next meeting. It must pass two readings before June 30.
Before adjourning into a lengthy executive session, Hellyer read a letter composed by the town’s attorney chastising the town’s pier committee. Hellyer said the council appreciates all of the volunteers on the town’s committees but some needed to be reminded they serve the council.
He said the council was angry at members of the pier committee who offered criticisms of the council and interim administrator during the public comments segment of the last town council meeting.
“They tried to embarrass the council and that will not be tolerated,” he said.
Following the executive session, Hellyer said the council would not be taking any actions against the committee but the administrator will have a private meeting with them.
At the pier committee’s Monday night meeting, the three members expressed a litany of frustrations with the council and interim administrator concerning the construction and operation of the new pier.
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