Surfside Beach releases draft budget without tax increase

The Surfside Beach Town Council on Wednesday took a first look at next year’s budget, which includes no tax increase, and cost of living and merit based raises, on the first day of a two-day budget retreat.

The majority of Wednesday’s discussions focused on staff presentations concerning potential revenue sources, to provide additional information as requested on topics such as like annexation and fire inspection fees.

All seven current council members and the three newly elected officials who will be sworn in on May 13 attended Wednesday’s meeting.

The proposed $6.3 million budget does not include a tax hike, though an increase was suggested by staff last year.

Town Administrator Micki Fellner said a tax increase was left out of the budget because of this year’s reassessment. She said it complicates the town’s ability to raise the taxes because of uncertainty in the property values and expected appeals.

The town’s tax rate is currently 40 mills.

Next year’s budget, which must be adopted before the end of June, and would take effect on July 1, includes a 1 percent cost of living increase for town employees in addition to a merit-based raise up to 2 percent.

Fellner, who has raised concerns about the town using reserves to meet its operating expenditures,

told Town Council that new or additional revenue streams or a reduction in services are required if the town continues to use it’s reserves and rely on transfers from special and proprietary funds to balance the budget.

One option discussed was annexation of commercial property primarily along the western side of U.S. 17. Town Council asked planning director Sabrina Morris to provide more information, including specific costs and benefits to the town, of annexing four properties around Deerfield Plaza which would include the McDonald’s and Old Time Pottery.

Mayor Doug Samples said he wasn’t sure annexing would be helpful due to additional costs that could be incurred by the town and said the revenue generated could be equal to a 2 mill tax increase.

Morris, Public Works director John Adair, Fire Chief Dan Cimini and Police Chief Rodney Keziah all said their departments would not need additional manpower or equipment if the town annexed up to S.C. 544.

Town Council also asked Debbie Ellis, who heads the recreation and special events, to provide more information about increasing rental fees for recreation spaces including the Dick M. Johnson Civic Center and the Floral Lake Clubhouse. Ellis said 11 groups use the civic center for a combined 118 hours each week, but pay no rental fees to help cover the cost of utilities, toiletries, upkeep and cleaning.

Cimini proposed the town add fees for state mandated inspections of commercial buildings, which include multi-dwelling condominiums or apartments. Fellner said the fees, which would range between $75 and $300 annually depending on the building’s size, were approved by the town’s business committee.

Samples said he is concerned that charging for inspections would be perceived as a tax increase and could make the town appear unfriendly to business.

Town Council will look at such fees in an ordinance form at an upcoming meeting.

Officials will meet Thursday in Council Chambers at 9 a.m. to continue the budget retreat.