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Holden Beach Commissioners must decide whether to keep or return about a million dollars the town has borrowed, they said at their first budget workshop Tuesday afternoon in town hall.
“The question now is to put the money back where it came from so it will paint a true picture of what things cost and we’ll have cash reserves on hand,” Mayor Alan Holden said. “You’ve got to have cash money in reserve.”
The town would have to have significant cash available to make emergency repairs in the event of a damaging tropical storm or hurricane.
Also, Holden said, “The life expectancy of our water lines has passed, and it’s foolhardy to do away with that money. I think it’s just the right thing to be prepared for the worst.
The cash we have we can put in the bank and draw interest on it.”
Other highlights of the town’s first budget workshop this year:
•Police chief Wally Layne said he didn’t see any major changes in the police department’s budget.
“We’ve obviously survived with nine officers,” he said.
Town manager David Hewett said he might not recommend nine officers in next year’s budget.
Commissioner Gary Staley wants to know how many officers it takes to have two on duty on the island at all times.
“The thoughts of going below nine—I can’t believe we could even consider it,” Staley said.
•A conference call sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre last week revealed the state received $34 million, and Holden Beach police can apply for $20,000 of that.
Part of the money would be used to replace the town’s oldest police car with a highway patrol car, and “there’s no match required by the town,” Layne said.
Holden asked Layne if he had the proper equipment to block the bridge or streets during a storm, and the police chief said the town has a 2½-ton truck the police department has used to block the bridge.
He said county emergency services has received all kinds of equipment from Homeland Security grants not available to local municipalities, and he felt sure the county would share those resources in the event of an emergency.
•The town’s tax base, after appeals were granted and adjustments made, fell from $2.221 billion to $2.211 billion, or a $10 million decline, Hewett said.
•Services for tourists on the strand should be paid for primarily by the BPART fund (occupancy tax) instead of from property taxes, Holden said.
“The occupancy tax should pay for special services required by tourist needs,” Holden said.
•Commissioner Ray Lehr said he was pleased property tax collections are at 97.8 percent this year but warned, “This revenue base could be a bit different next year than this year.”
He also wondered how department heads are going to estimate gasoline costs “now that it’s gone up 30 cents a gallon in two weeks.”
•Zoning/CAMA official Rhonda Wooten said she wouldn’t ask for a new vehicle for her department, but when asked, she said the ’98 Blazer has 146,000 miles on it “and every time we have an inspection we need something done.”
Hewett said, “I’ve given the department heads instructions that if it ain’t hard broke, don’t fix it.”
•Two bulkheads, including one on Durham Street, need repair. The reason the town is ahead $775,000 so far this fiscal year in the general fund is because officials have chosen not to make a number of small capital project improvements, Hewett said.
The next budget workshop is June 9.