Sunday, August 14, 2022

Increased revenue not enough to protect residents from inflation costs in Carolina Beach

Carolina Beach (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands)

CAROLINA BEACH — An almost $4-million expansion to Carolina Beach’s budget was offset by rising costs, according to the town, which passed its 2022-2023 fiscal year budget Tuesday.

General fund revenue, collected from the town’s taxes and fees, will increase to $19.8 million, up $3 million more than last year. The utility fund will increase almost a million dollars to $10.1 million.

The budget document noted the strong economy can be credited due to “higher sales tax, occupancy taxes and, to a lesser extent, property taxes.”

Property taxes will remain at last year’s rate of $0.215 per $100 of value. 

Despite the increase in revenue, residents still will be impacted in other areas due to rising inflation, up 8.6% from last year — the fastest increase since 1981, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Expected is a 4% increase in utility rates to “lessen the impact future revenue bond issuances will have on rates and to help keep up with inflationary impacts,” according to the town’s budget message.

Water rates also will rise to $22.14 for the first 3,000 gallons ($6.24 after that per 1,000 gallons). Rates were $21.29 and $6 respectively last year.

Sewer rates will reach $40 for the first 3,000 gallons ($10.59 after that per 1,000 gallons), up from $38.46 and $10.18 respectively last year. 

Stormwater services will surge 50 cents from last year, reaching $17. 

The departments operate two water treatment plants, 14 wells, 13 lift stations, a wastewater treatment plant, 30 miles of sewer, five miles of force mains, 35 miles of water lines, 4,721 water and sewer accounts, and manages the public stormwater system with four pump stations.

“We continue to see inflationary increases on materials used in our utility and public works department such as stone, rock, pipe, as well as especially fuel,” Town Manager Bruce Oakley said. “We are seeing an increase in costs 5% up to 20% depending on the material.”

The town allocated $238,506 out of its fund balance to ease the offset costs on residents. Oakley said the utility increase is still “significantly lower” than what it costs the town to provide those services. The budget lists the utility fund expenditures at $9.3 million.

Beach residents raised concerns about the economy during Tuesday’s public hearing. Some asked the council to avoid hiring nonessential employees, while expressing wariness about a potential decrease in tourism, a major part of Carolina Beach’s economy.

Six new positions are in this year’s budget, including a communications coordinator, a financial analyst, and a human resource and executive support position, along with three new firefighters. All positions would be paid from the general fund and staggered throughout each quarter to allow the council to reevaluate based on budget progress. 

Utility fund employees will see an 8% to 10% salary increase per the budget. 

Carolina Beach Fire Chief Alan Griffin defended the staff additions at the meeting. He said similar towns such as Nag’s Head, Oak Island and Surf City have more staff now and will also be asking for more this year. 

“I could arguably say these other towns don’t have the commercial and high rise in population influx that I deal with as the fire chief,” Griffin said at the meeting. 

Councilmember Mike Hoffer was leery of new positions after adding six firemen in the last four years. 

“Obviously, it would be unpopular to say, ‘Don’t hire firemen,’ but I’m not sure,” Hoffer said at the meeting. 

Residents also raised concerns about Carolina Beach’s reputation when it comes to parking. Some believed the parking rules were a deterrent to visitors. 

READ MORE: Split CB council still tweaking parking plans, bags streetside meters in the offseason

In 2020, the town increased its parking lot rate to $5 an hour and citations to $100, double its fine from last year.

“There is so much revenue assumed from parking,” Hoffer said at Tuesday’s meeting. “$142,000 more this year on parking citations — that just gives me the creeps a little bit. It feels like dirty money to me sometimes.” 

Resident and financial advisor Cathrine Robbins claimed businesses were seeing decreased numbers in tourism. She said it has to do with “predator parking,” specifically with customers leaving negative business reviews because they can’t find a space and, if they do, can’t afford to shop long because of parking rates.

Parking revenue, including lots, meters, citations and permits, for fiscal year 2022-2023 is projected to reach nearly $3 million. The 2021-2022 revenue was $1.9 million.

The budget passed at Tuesday’s meeting in a 4-1 vote with Hoffer dissenting.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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