A budget proposed for Surfside Beach could leave town with too little money in the event of a major disaster, and that news moved town council members to look for places to make cuts Thursday during the council’s annual budget retreat.
In addition to learning that the town’s spending during the past five years has sent Surfside Beach in the wrong direction, council members also worked to trim a budget request from the town’s fire department, where outdated equipment is a concern.
Town Administrator Micki Fellner said that spending habits in the town since 2008 “could lead to fiscal peril.”
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” she said. “We need to start really paying attention to that.”
She suggested a conservative budget should be maintained for the next two to three years.
With all expected expenditures considered, Fellner said Surfside Beach would have $1,300,789 left over in the next budget. She said the number worried her because it’s only a little higher than two-months worth of town’s operating expenses. The total budget is $5.7 million, which maintains a 40 millage tax rate.
Ideally, she said the town would have at least three-months worth of operating costs to work with in the event of a hurricane or other major disaster event.
Council members are looking for cuts. Staff already has deferred a few expenditures including a marquee for town hall, a digital sign for police and security cameras at the beach accesses. Town Council agreed they’d like to find a way to fund the cameras, which will cost an estimated $18,875.
It was the Surfside Beach Fire Department’s budget request – about $42,000 more than last year – that Town Council spent the most time trying to find areas to trim.
The increase is largely due to the departments need for new uniforms, according to Fire Chief Dan Cimini.
“I don’t understand how we got in the situation we’re in,” Cimini said when he asked Town Council to fund the purchase of 14 sets of gear costing $32,000.
He said the uniforms are mismatched brands that don’t protect firefighters properly, and most are outdated and in poor shape.
“If we lose gear from a hazmat situation or contamination from a blood borne pathogen, we can’t replace it,” he said. “We really need to get back in line from the safety aspect. A big portion of these people are volunteers ... and we’re putting them in gear that isn’t safe for them to be in.”
Neither Cimini, who became chief a little more than a month ago, nor Town Council members were sure how the uniforms got to be in such bad shape without being replaced in previous years. Cimini said he just started a monthly inspection program for the gear. He also said the air packs and pumps, which should be tested annually, have no records of being examined.
“This is something I inherited, that I walked into,” he said. “I’m just giving you the information you need to make sound decisions.”
Mayor Doug Samples said the costs needed to be squeezed and Cimini said he understood the financial constraints and would make do with whatever money the council approves.
The uniform expense was left in the draft budget which won’t likely be voted on until next month and does not need to be finalized until the end of June.