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Surfside Beach plays it safe

Although largely unaffected by the economic downturn in the first part of 2009, the town of Surfside Beach will be scaling back on some of its spending for the rest of the fiscal year.

Town Administrator Ed Booth said the town's 2009-2010 budget will be cut about 20 percent, or about $500,000, in response to projected decreases in building permit fees, business license taxes, hospitality taxes and accommodations taxes.

"I think we are going to have a downslide for another year," Booth said. "Then, I think we'll bottom out and slowly start making our way back up."

In the past year, the town's only major loss was about $120,000 in interest on the town's reserve fund, Booth said.

To address the expected drop in revenue, Booth said the town will put off replacing equipment such as police cars, backhoes and lawn mowers. Booth said he is also planning to put off building a community center for one more year.

The town is also reducing the number of mutual aid calls it responds to in unincorporated parts of Horry County and is decreasing the number of sports teams for its recreation department.

Residents will also have to pitch in to keep costs down by placing their recyclables and garbage on one side of the street to help save fuel for the sanitation trucks.

Employees will also be affected. Booth hopes to balance the budget by reducing cost of living increases from the federal level of 6.9 percent to 3 percent. Merit pay will only be given to 50 percent of employees. Merit pay will range from 1 percent to 3 percent. Top employees will get 4 percent. The town's property tax rate is expected to stay at 44 mills.

The town also has several projects in the works, including a $2.1 million fire station, a dog park, an underground wiring transition and several pier upgrades, which include replacement of the planks, a two-level observation deck, new benches and better lighting.

For the first time this year, the town is also expected to host a fireworks show on Independence Day.