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SUNSET BEACH—The town’s five-year financial forecast and capital improvement plan were among agenda items outlined at town council’s annual retreat Tuesday.
Town administrator Gary Parker kicked off the daylong session at Sea Trail by reviewing projected numbers with the town board and staff.
Parker cited a “steadily decreasing fund balance” through fiscal year 2014-15, after which it goes up. He said that was planned because of capital improvement projects that are under way and completed.
The current 2012-13 fund balance is $7,729,162 compared to $8,932,881 for prior fiscal year 2011-2012.
The projected fund balance for the upcoming 2013-14 budget is $6,044,697. The projected fund balance for subsequent fiscal years is $5,499,370 for 2014-15; $5,650,426 for 2015-16 and $5,904,626 for 2016-17.
The last payment on the town ladder truck is this fiscal year, in April. The last year for payments on town hall improvements and fire department debt service is 2014-15.
Town councilwoman Karen Joseph said last month’s ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court proved developer Mark Saunders’ property had not been valued correctly by the county.
“Who’s to say they haven’t done it in many, many other places?” she said. “I’m concerned about any numbers we’re going to get from them.”
Town councilwoman Carol Scott said she doesn’t believe “that’s something we’re going to see in Sunset Beach.”
Scott disputed a projected property-tax increase of 2-3 percent for Sunset Beach.
Parker responded “we historically have seen an increase of about 4 percent until revaluation adjusted that.”
Now that revaluation has presumably set property values correctly with the economy, Parker said they should see more of that historical trend.
Scott, however, said, “All the experts are saying we’re never going to see a 3-4 percent increase.”
Town councilman Wilson Sherrill said, “We’re in a second-home market. We’re going to lag behind the rest of the state. People are waiting in line for a property to go on the market. Florida is booming. Texas is booming. We’re going to see some appreciation with the construction we’ve got going on.”
“We’ve got to be ultra-conservative in these figures,” Scott said.
“To make you feel more comfortable, projections in my forecast are done on a conservative basis, just like in my budget forecast,” Parker said.
With installation of sewer, Sherrill said older homes on the island would be bought for “pennies on the dollar” and moved over the bridge to make way for new construction.
“We’re going to see a major change in the look of homes on the island in the near future,” he said.
Town building inspector Sandy Wood said the number of building permits being issued by the town is increasing every day.
Sunset Beach Mayor Richard Cerrato said, “Things are not booming as people say they are. We’re still in the middle of a recession.”
Now, he said, the town is talking about hiring more people.
More firefighters requested
Tuesday, town fire chief Kevin Dempsey and assistant fire chief Richard Childres outlined a request to add 12 firefighters at a projected cost of $582,996.
Dempsey cited recommended standards by OSHA and the National Fire Protection Association, the “two in/two out rule” requiring two firefighters be outside before two firefighters can enter an “immediately dangerous to life and health atmosphere.”
Parker and Dempsey said to be effective, the department needs to respond with a minimum of four personnel on each engine. Council and staff should weigh the shortcomings against costs to bring the department up to standard, they said.
“No fire department here has these standards,” said Cerrato, citing mutual aid as the current procedure.
Town councilman Lou DeVita said, “We need a program to get volunteers.”
Cerrato suggested tapping as a resource West Brunswick High School—students who may not be going to college and would like to consider firefighting as a career.
Town councilwoman Joseph said, “We failed to meet certain guidelines. That is a concern that I have. We do not meet minimum standards. We do not meet the requirements of interior firefighting operations. We fall under the 38 percent effectiveness rating. Those are concerns that I have as a council member, but also as a resident. I don’t think that bodes well for us.”
DeVita said, “We created the problem with the standards when we split the staff between the two stations. The town is not going to grow in that direction, and our fire department isn’t going to grow.”
Joseph said that’s not necessarily true and cited Ocean Ridge.
Council chamber options
Council also discussed expansion options at town hall, spurred by a “recent history of capacity meetings” at town council meetings.
One option the board will take a closer look at is the possibility of using the unused and empty “Frankovich building” next door, which has 4,500 square feet each on first and second floors.
Another option is a lot on the other side of town hall that has an asking price of $695,000.
Wilson and Joseph said discussion of projected values to offer should only be discussed in closed session.
Council also discussed the search for a new town administrator, tying in with Parker’s plan to retire at the end of January 2014.
The board indicated DeVita might help spearhead the process since he is the only council member who was serving when the town hired Parker in December 2007.
DeVita said the effort involved a significant amount of work that included working with the North Carolina League of Municipalities.
Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.