CAROLINA BEACH — Covid-19 hit the Cape Fear region at a particularly significant time — the start of spring break — which usually marks the beginning of tourist season for beach towns across the area. It’s also the beginning of the end in terms of most government’s fiscal years and budget season.
Most governments operate on a fiscal year calendar for budget purposes as opposed to the standard January — December. In North Carolina, the fiscal year runs from July 1 — June 30, and most (if not all) governmental bodies follow the same calendar for their own budging purposes.
For a town like Carolina Beach which relies heavily on tourism to fuel its economy, the impacts of Covid-19 have yet to be fully felt, but they are being considered in this year’s upcoming budget. On Tuesday, Town Manager Bruce Oakley presented the Town Council with a budget message, which is actually less than Fiscal Year 2019–2020.
“As you all know there is a lot of uncertainty right now, economic uncertainty, preparing this budget was a little more difficult projecting revenues so what we have done is shown a budget that is a little lower than the last year, but it does not include a tax increase,” Oakley said.
Not increasing taxes this year seems to be a trend among cities and counties in the region this year, presumably to help residents with Covid-19 financial issues.
The proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020–2021 has the General Fund total slightly lower than last year’s at $15.44 million compared to $15.55 million while the utilities fund is also lower, down from $9.5 million to $8.9 million. The tax rate will remain at 24.5 cents per $100 worth of valuation.
In order to keep the town within its budget, Oakley said that staff is adjusting plans to limit spending, at least until the actual impact of Covid-19 is understood in terms of town finances.
“In this budget, we are delaying some spending, we may cut a lot of projects — we’re going to delay a lot of things to see how revenues come in … a lot of spending we would normally do in the beginning of the year we are going to delay,” Oakley said.
Things like hiring new employees, which is generally done at the start of a fiscal year, will take place mid-year to ensure the town has the resources to do so, he said.
Each year the town has the option to include a cost of living adjustment (COLA) raise for all of its employees, this year, that raise is going to be 1.8% — a small increase compared to what the town has provided in the past. Town staff will also have to wait until January to see the COLA raise Oakley said.
You can watch the full presentation by Oakley online and the Town Council will have another meeting before voting on the official budget in June.