Bluffton Town Council approved the Town’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 consolidated budget on second and final reading at the June 9 Town Council meeting. State law requires all municipalities to adopt a balanced budget ordinance before July 1. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
The proposed consolidated budget is comprised of four different funds which include General Fund, Stormwater Utility Fund, Capital Improvements Program Fund and Debt Service Fund. The proposed FY 2021 consolidated budget totals $34,223,867 and is structured to move the Town forward through program enhancements to include improved delivery of services and its capital projects schedule.
The Town hosted two public workshops, May 21 and May 26, to discuss budget details. Both meetings were held at 6 p.m. via Facebook Live on the Town of Bluffton Government Facebook page. The May 21 meeting discussed the General Fund, Debt Service Fund and the Stormwater Utility Fund. The May 26 meeting discussed the details of the Capital Improvements Program Fund.
Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple effects on the state and local economy, the budget reflects an 8.3% decline in projected revenue in FY 2021 compared to FY 2020. The total consolidated budget decreased to $34.2 million from $37.3 million. The proposed budget keeps the property tax millage the same at 38.50. For a house appraised at approximately $270,000, the Town tax bill is approximately $525 which includes Town of Bluffton operations, debt and stormwater fee.
“This is the first budget I have had to present with an expected decline in the Town’s revenue streams that we depend on to support Town Council priorities,” Town Manager Marc Orlando said. “The town’s financially conservative approach to budgeting in the past and the town’s ability to save prepared us for the unexpected.”
• No Cost-of-Living or performance-based salary increases for employees or Town Council.
• Hiring freeze on current open positions for Historic District Preservation Senior Planner and Planner Technician.
• No in-state and out-of-state travel for staff and Town Council, except for Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC) events.
• A $25 fee on vehicle license tags will fund right-of-way maintenance, public transportation, streetlights installation, associated utility costs, road signage, traffic enforcement and road safety enhancements.
• A 17% increase in stormwater fees for property owners as well as a drainage inspection fee for developers will enable the continued implementation of projects which contribute to water quality improvements such municipal separate storm sewer systems permit implementation projects, May River Watershed Action plan projects, drainage/ditch maintenance and the USCB Water Quality Monitoring Services.
• Expands the Town’s public safety program with the addition of a full-time Emergency Manager and two traffic police officers. The two traffic police officers are contingent upon award of a grant.
• Supports a $9 million Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for projects such as improved safety and walkability of high-traffic pedestrian areas; further development of the Wright Family Park; continuation of public sewer projects; and a Law Enforcement Center security-enhancement project.
• Supports the Town’s strategic interagency partnerships for economic development, shared parking agreements, multi-agency legal programs and public outreach.
• Supports the work plans of the Town’s boards, commissions and committees. For example, the $190,000 Affordable Housing Committee plan will, among other initiatives, assist income-qualified residents with minor home repairs as well as property maintenance, to include abatement of unsafe structures, hazardous tree removal, property clean-up and septic repair. The Beautification Committee Work Plan includes funds for tree plantings, an annual Arbor Day event and seasonal plantings in the Adopt a Planter Program.
Orlando said the budget provides the foundation for the Town to continue to expand its services despite this year’s economic challenges.
“I am pleased to present a balanced budget with conservative revenue projections and careful expenditure reductions,” Orlando said. “The town has always maintained a lean operating budget with a focus on Town Council’s priority programs and this fiscal year is no different.
“This budget also enables the Town to expand its services as it will fund the Town’s first full-time emergency manager as well as public safety programs and further investments in public infrastructure.”
Mayor Lisa Sulka said the Town begins the new fiscal year in a healthy financial position.
“It is the goal of Town Council to continue to implement projects and programs which improve the quality of life for our residents,” Mayor Lisa Sulka said. “We will closely monitor revenues and expenses, reduce spending and find new funding resources as the Town goes forward into this year.
“Just like individual budgeting in an unpredictable economy, Town leaders and staff will have a constant eye on the Town’s budget and priorities this year to keep the Town a step ahead of fluctuating economic factors.”