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Sunset Beach OKs budget with no tax increase

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SUNSET BEACH — A split council narrowly adopted the town’s proposed $5,865,487 budget for fiscal 2014-2015 with no tax increase Monday night, June 30.

The town tax rate will remain at 10.5 cents per $100 valuation in the 2014-15 fiscal budget that took effect Tuesday, July 1. The budget garnered the approval of town council members Lou De Vita, Wilson Sherrill and Mike Williams. Council members Terry Johnson and Carol Scott casting dissenting votes.

Scott spoke against 1½ percent cost-of-living raises and 1 percent bonuses budgeted for town employees.

“When you look at the last five years, it’s completely out of line with what’s happening in other communities and the country as a whole,” Scott said. “At some point, I think we’re out of whack with other communities, and I think we need to get this more in line.”

She said it makes it more difficult to balance the budget. She also expressed concern revenue projections are “too optimistic” and will impact budgeting next year.

“I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job to keep these expenses down,” Scott said.

Johnson said he agreed with Scott as well as comments expressing concern by residents Richard Hilderman and Richard Cerrato.

Prior to the vote, other residents had comments.

Diane Robbins said she and others expect to pay more taxes to maintain improvements made in the town over the last few years, including the park, boat ramp, fishing pier, a bird-watching platform on N.C. 179, streetscape, the island gazebo, improved ramps to the beach and beach restrooms.

“It has been money well spent,” she said.

Charlie Nern said he also supports a tax increase and that Ingram Planetarium should be self-supporting. Calling bonds on Jaguar’s Lair, as has been urged by property owners of the unfinished community, “could cost us a lot of money,” Nern said, adding town employees do a great job and “deserve what they get. It’s important we train and maintain employees so they have the experience to take us into the future.”

 

Twin Lakes

Council debated stormwater maintenance responsibility of the “twin lakes” off Shoreline Drive West.

Town attorney Michael Isenberg said it has been determined the lakes are not owned by the town but to the “Ed Gore Trust.” He said if drains are necessary in the stormwater plan, the town can spend money for whatever is necessary with permission of the owner. He added expenses are limited, and there is no obligation to make the lakes aesthetically pleasing.

Scott said “we’ve been told in the past we own” the lakes. Isenberg said Sea Trail deeded drainage ponds and ditches to the town when Linda Fluegel was town administrator. He said the town has an easement for the birdwalk and shrubbery.

De Vita said the town helped homeowners to “keep it from being clogged and choked out with overgrowth, but somewhere along two years ago we assumed more responsibility. I think that’s incorrect based on what we’re finding out.”

De Vita said the town needs to go back to the property owners and their POA.

Scott said the town is shelling out $40,000 a year for all the lakes, $22,000 “to cover these two twin lakes we do not own. The question is what are we going to do about it this year and in the future?”

Town administrator Susan Parker said the town treated the lakes and aerators. She added there was an increase in costs last fall because the area had gotten overgrown and needed additional work.

“That’s probably money we should not have spent,” Scott said.

Parker recommended the town leave money to cover the maintenance cost until cost is clearly determined.

Sunset Beach Mayor Ron Watts said the challenge is homeowners for the group-owned project disbanded six months ago and need a couple of months to get together. He recommended leaving it in the budget for now until town staff can work out a transition plan with homeowners to take over responsibility next season.

Scott and Johnson opposed budgeting money. Sherrill said “we need to right the ship and make sure the proper powers are in place around the lakes.”

De Vita said they need to get back with property owners to let them understand what the problem is.

“I don’t think you can abandon maintenance because it’s going to ruin the appearance there,” he said. “No. 2, it makes the situation worse for whoever is going to maintain them.”

Scott proposed allocating $4,000 annually since the town has the birdwalk overlooking the lakes and giving July and August for owners to “get their act together. Starting Sept. 1, they then start making these payments.”

Watts said in theory it makes sense but he isn’t sure about the reality.

“I think everybody is going in the same direction,” he said, asking for opportunity for Parker and himself to speak with homeowners, then come back at council’s next monthly meeting Aug. 4.

 

Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.