South Bethany council begins budget planning for 2018

Date Published: 
March 17, 2017

South Bethany Treasurer Don Boteler on March 10 presented the draft budget for the 2018 fiscal year, which the town council will continue discussing over the next few months, ahead of the start of the new fiscal year on May 1.

In the draft, the Town’s operating budget is about $2.4 million, which doesn’t include their reserve and savings accounts.

There are actually two different proposals: the proposed budget, which includes what various Town committees have requested, with no adjustments (leaving a $68,672 deficit); and the Budget & Finance Committee’s proposal (with an $8,185 deficit). The council will debate the proposed projects and is expected to approve a final budget in April. The Town’s fiscal year runs from May 1 to April 30.

“We’re working on taking historical data … and looking at how they behaved over the last 10 years and make some projections [which can be] a fool’s errand,” Boteler joked.

South Bethany’s top three sources of operating revenue are property taxes, rental tax and realty transfer tax. Its top operating expenses are public safety, beach patrol, public works and general/administrative.

The reserves currently hold about $2.4 million from various sources, including government-restricted funds, maintenance savings accounts, donations for police and more. Proposed capital projects would cost about $300,000.

The Town must consider the upcoming police station expansion (the $232,000 is already reserved); a new audio system for the council chambers; police car repairs or replacement; new accessibility-enhancing Mobi-Mats at three dune crossings; and a replacement all-terrain vehicle.

Because future challenges will include beach replenishment, canal water quality and flood mitigation, the council has to start planning for those likely unknowns, perhaps creating an “unassigned” reserve fund, Boteler said. Today, the Town has invested much of its cash in low-risk CDs.

The council’s next budget workshop is set for Thursday, March 23, at 2 p.m. The draft budget is available online under “Bulletin Board” at www.southbethany.org.

Tax reassessment: Equitable, but unlikely

The council will also set the town tax rate when the budget is approved. If nothing changes, the rate would remain $1.30 per $100 of assessed value, based on Sussex County assessments.

However, county property hasn’t been reassessed in decades. To the benefit of property owners, the assessed values are much lower than actual market value.

Are the Sussex County assessments really fair? asked former Town treasurer Tim Saxton. “When oceanfront property has a lower assessment than the people on the bayside, there’s something wrong with the equity of the assessment, so I challenge the Budget & Finance Department to address that.”

Just reassessing the town could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, various people estimated, and it could be tough to get competitive bids.

“The County should be doing something too,” Saxton said. “They’re doing the same thing we do, same thing I did as treasurer: they’re living off of building permits and transfer tax.”

Maryland reassesses properties every three years, to keep up with modern property values.

Every system has its winners and losers, Boteler said.

“But at least it [would be] equitable,” Saxton said.

In other South Bethany news:

• The beach smoking ban is one step closer to reality. The council this week approved the second reading of Ordinance 186-17, which would on public beach ground prohibit all smoking of tobacco or related products with cigarettes, pipes, vaporizers and the like.

Lifeguards are not expected to enforce the smoking ban, since officials said their eyes should be on the ocean. Often, other beachgoers will ask others to follow the law, or they can ask the lifeguard to radio the police to enforce the law.

• Interviews are under way to hire a new town manager.

• The Town is auctioning surplus items, including lifeguard stands, bicycles, office equipment, police vehicles and a motor boat. Details are online at “Bulletin Board” on www.southbethany.org. Bids are due April 10.

• In planning a future street paving project, the council has approved Kercher Engineering’s $3,000 proposal to write the contract and oversee bidding.

• Summer activities will include yoga and bootcamp on the beach; movies on the beach on July 13 and Aug. 3; a boat parade on July 2; a rock concert by Over Time on July 3; and Sept. 9 beach party.

• The deadline for nominations for the 2017 South Bethany Town Council election is Wednesday, April 12. Three seats are up for election, each carrying a two-year term. Applications and details are available from Town Hall by calling (302) 539-3653 or emailing townhall@southbethany.org.

• The town council approved the second reading of summertime Black Gum barricade (May 15 to Sept. 15, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) with Ordinance 185-17. The new barricade hours were already enacted in summer of 2016, but this will be the first full summer of it.

Once again, some residents suggested that only they should be allowed to enter the road from Kent Avenue, but council members have repeatedly said that South Bethany risks losing highway funding if they privatize the road. Plus, Police Chief Troy Crowson said, enforcement is harder when some people are allowed to use the road and others aren’t.