Town discusses 2014 budget
Town Council met last Friday to discuss the proposed 2014 budget at their annual budget retreat.
The proposed budget projected revenues totaling $25,967,913, almost $1.5 million more than the 2013 budget projected. The entire revenue amount was proposed as expenditures.
The police and fire departments will receive the largest portions of the budget – $6,158,878 and $6,174,994, respectively.
According to the mayor, the budget will be presented for the first reading by the October Town Council meeting. The final reading will then take place in November in order to be voted on by the end of the year. Once approved, the budget will take effect in January 2014.
Other highlights from the budget and the retreat are as follows:
The budget allocated $160,000 to fund a new Town master plan. All consulting firms had to submit their applications by Aug. 9. Moving forward, a group of officials led by Mayor Bill Collins will review the applicants and negotiate fees. The master plan will encompass ideas such as land use, public and private investment and prioritization of resources, according to the master plan request for qualifications.
Later in the retreat, several councilmen brought up the importance of creating sidewalks across town. The mayor agreed the construction is a priority and suggested the concern be a significant part of the new master plan.
The budget allocates $23,000 of 2014 Hospitality and Local Accommodations Tax funds to the Summerville trolley tours. The once-a-month one-hour tours began in June of this year for a six-month trial period. The program has been found to be very successful – the venture has broken even or almost broken even every month, according to the mayor – and the additional funds would continue the tours for another year.
“So far it’s going really well,” said Councilwoman Kima Garten-Schmidt. “People are coming from other areas that have heard about the tours. So many people from Summerville have said ‘I never knew this about my hometown.’”
The councilmembers also discussed the possibility of looking into leasing or buying a trolley, rather than continuing to rent one. Maintenance on the vehicle would be the biggest expense if they were to purchase it, according to Councilwoman Garten-Schmidt.
Business License Ordinance Amendment
The Town’s existing Business License Ordinance has not been updated since 2005 and an update was proposed at the retreat. Belinda Harper, finance director, drafted the changes, which married the existing ordinance with the Municipal Association ordinance.
Among other things, the ordinance will define what being “in business” means for those who own rental properties.
After much heated debate, during which Councilman Aaron Brown dominated the conversation and aired many of his concerns, the council agreed upon more than two properties.
If passed, this means landlords who own more than two rental properties will be required to obtain a business license.
In addition, the proposed ordinance will add an amnesty period for those business owners who have not been paying their taxes correctly.
A mandatory audit of Summerville business licenses will take place during this year. The amnesty period would allow business owners who voluntarily call for a review of their records a penalty-free period of time to obtain correct licenses.
The Town will use postcards to invite in-town businesses to participate.
If the review finds the business owner should have a license they do not, the amnesty period will allow those owners a chance to obtain the license and pay what they should have been paying without adding additional penalty fees.
The amendment will also allow an opportunity for the Town to refund any business owners who may have been paying more taxes than necessary.
The council put the amendment on the September meting agenda in order to have two mandatory readings and a vote before the end of the year.
Health and Dental Insurance
The Town has been accepting applications for a new insurance agency, as the current provider is leaving the state.
The change will affect all Town of Summerville employees.
Kenny Plexico, the Town’s insurance consultant, gave a presentation at the retreat explaining the benefits of the bidder who “stands out by far,” Blue Cross Blue Shield.
According to Plexico, the provider will maintain the Town’s current benefits, plus drop the generic co-pay to $10.
Switching to Blue Cross Blue Shield would also offer additional benefits for Town employees who use Doctors Care, an urgent care facility, for their emergency and primary care needs. Those who use Doctors Care will get their medications for free, and if they use the facility for their primary care needs, the co-pay will also be waived.
“The thing about this proposal is it has the opportunity and the promise of improving the quality of life of a number of our city employees. You can’t measure that,” said Mayor Collins.
Plexico agreed, “It’s definitely an innovative program. Doctors Care is progressive in doing this, and you can save lives and certainly enhance the lives of employees with this program.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield coverage also includes a vision component, which would add to the existing supplemental vision plan the Town has. The dental plan will remain the same.
A 5 percent pay hike is proposed for Town employees.
This year’s budget included a blanket bonus of the same amount, which was distributed in March.
The council proposed the hike involve a 3 percent raise across the board, with the remaining 2 percent will be merit-based.
According to Director of Administrative Services Lisa Wallace, the 3 percent would increase employees’ salaries for coming years and would also increase base starting salary for new employees.
“We’re spending the same money as we did last year only this time we are making a commitment to the employees for the future,” said Councilman Bill McIntosh.
Events Coordinator Position
The 2013 budget included funding to hire a Town Events Coordinator, which was not filled.
“I’ve given it a good bit of thought and I would like for us to employ that person in year 2014,” said Mayor Collins.
The budget allocates $75,000 for the new hire -- $50,000 in salary and $25,000 in benefits.
The person’s proposed responsibilities would include writing and distributing press releases, planning events, managing the Town’s website, working with other area organizations to organize and promote events and acting as a public information officer.
The council met the idea with enthusiasm and support.
“This person could do a lot of things for us,” said Councilman Brown. “This person can help grow the town.”