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Holden Beach Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a $13,001,205 budget for the next fiscal year at their meeting Tuesday night in the Holden Beach Chapel Fellowship Hall.
The budget has no tax increase, but the water rate goes up 20 cents per 1,000 gallons.
Commissioner Gary Staley cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he was glad residents won’t face a tax increase but he still thought things could have been cut from the budget.
For example, he said a 10th police officer has been budgeted for the town even though Holden Beach hasn’t had a 10th officer for four months.
“If the town is not going to hire a 10th officer, that’s $55,000 we can take out of the budget,” Staley said.
Town Manager David Hewett said he wants to do a cost analysis, see how many officers other towns in similar situations have and find out if a 10th officer is warranted here.
He said he left the 10th officer’s salary and benefits in the budget because they were in last year’s budget and he’s also concerned about skyrocketing gas prices.
This is the new town manager’s first budget.
Police Chief Wally Layne said, “I would rather have the position in the budget and not need it than need it and not have it.”
Staley added, “I cannot support the budget because I think there is room for cuts.”
From the audience, Lou Cutajar of Tide Ridge Drive said he was delighted the budget does not have a tax increase but wonders if it couldn’t have been reduced.
Like Staley, Cutajar complained, “The town has borrowed $4 million (for the new town hall) when they only needed $3.2 million in order to cover contingencies. That’s an extra $800,000 we are paying interest on. ...
“A reduction of $200,000 in the budget would reduce the tax rate from 6.9 cents to 6.4 cents instead of it remaining the same.”
Later in the meeting, Staley thanked Hewett for all his hard work on the budget and said, “I commend this board for passing a balanced budget with no tax increase.”
Hewett thanked the newly formed audit committee for giving him additional insights and helping him polish the budget.
The new budget year begins July 1.
Holden Beach Commissioners were scheduled to meet Wednesday, June 25, with dredging officials about dredging the canals.
Hewett announced these proposed fees: $800 per lot in Holden Beach Harbor, $420 in Heritage Harbor and $200 in Harbor Acres.
From the audience, Gay Atkins said, “My question is if the board is heading toward paying for the litigation and the dredging of the canals?”
Mayor Alan Holden said technically there’s no litigation, and Hewett said the legal expenses directly attributed to the Holden Beach Harbor project have been paid for by that project.
From the audience, Dennis Harrington of Greensboro Street said, “I feel you are placing a very unfair burden on the residents of these canals.”
He blamed the foul-up on oversight of the previous town manager.
Lot owners originally paid $1,200 per lot, he said, and owners with wider or multiple lots paid more.
“It’s going to cost us another $800,” he said. “There’s money left over in the budget. If anything, I think we should share in this project.”
Another man from the audience said he doesn’t think the town is responsible for professional project management.
In other news at Tuesday night’s meeting:
• Layne introduced Holden Beach’s ninth police officer, Jessica Camara, who was just hired, pending completion of state law-enforcement requirements.
•Layne also said the town’s police will reroute traffic during the Fourth of July week as it did on “Moving Day” (Saturday when renters leave and arrive en mass on the island) during Memorial Day weekend.
All traffic coming onto the island from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. had to turn right. People with destinations to the left (the east end of the island) then made two more quick rights onto the streets Rothchild and Brunswick.
The rerouting for the Fourth of July week will happen on three days instead of one: this Saturday, June 28; Friday, July 4, and Saturday, July 5.
“I’m anticipating two weeks (of heavy traffic) this year because July Fourth falls on a Friday,” Layne said.
The rerouting hours may even be extended during the actual Fourth of July because traffic backups were bad on Independence Day last year, he said.
•Layne urged any island residents not currently on the Reverse 911 plan but who want to receive a mass call from town officials during a crisis (such as a hurricane approaching) to log onto firstcallnetwork.com, check on the red box for unlisted numbers and fill out the form online.
“If your phone number is listed, you should already be in there,” he said.
•Commissioner Sandy Miller suggested commissioners return to one scheduled meeting a month instead of two—except if occasions arise when a second meeting is needed.
She did not ask for a vote Tuesday night but rather for commissioners and the public to think about the proposal.
In the audience, Atkins said she prefers two meetings a month. She said if the town schedules two meetings a month, she could plan her life around those dates. But she might not be able to make a called meeting even with Miller’s proposed 48-hours notice.
Also in the audience, Nydia Glander said most town councils have regularly scheduled meetings just once a month, citing the governing bodies of Southport, Oak Island, Leland and Ocean Isle.
Commissioner Ray Lehr said he would be in favor of one scheduled meeting a month but wanted to hear input from the public.
•Staley announced the new construction diagonally across the parking lot from the Food Lion at the end of the Holden Beach Causeway is for a Walgreens. Shopping center officials said they wanted to put a drug store there when they first announced the grocery store would be built.
•Hewett said he would be returning money to about a dozen residents who appealed their tax revaluation all the way to the state commissioner of revenue, who found in their favor.
The highest amount is $800, he said. The rest vary.
Commissioners had to approve that tax release Tuesday night before Hewett could start giving the money back.
Other cases are still on appeal, and Hewett said he is concerned about how many more adjustments are going to be made to the tax base.
•Town officials will begin installing new business and accounting software next week, the town manager said.
Hewett also said, “The holdup on the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) is we are waiting on garage doors. We’ll be working on the septic system in the meantime.”
•Holden asked Hewett, “Are we going to restrike the crosswalk where public accesses (to the beach) are? ... Years ago, it was kind of a Holden Beach courtesy to stop where the lines are marked.”
Hewett said he would check into it.
•Another man from the audience asked town officials to try to do something about potholes, joking one swallowed a small car, and not joking that they rattle teeth. Public works director Chris Clemmons said he is going to try to do something about the potholes.
•Commissioner Ken Kyser told the board, “I’ve only seen three trash cans that were overflowing, so it seems that the trash can ordinance is working.”
Kyser also noted he would miss Wednesday’s meeting about dredging canals because his father was just hospitalized.
•In the audience, Martha Waller asked the board, “Has anybody mentioned a problem with rats?”
She said he had seen only a couple but heard complaints from neighbors near overgrown lots.
Holden said it’s still on the books a neighbor can report a complaint to town hall about an overgrown lot and the owner will be notified to correct the problem.
But the mayor, who grew up on the island, also said, “We’ve always had that problem.”
He said the rats were big at the old pavilion.