The Swansboro Board of Commissioners will have a special meeting tomorrow night at Town Hall to discuss the town’s new budget. Now that the sale of the cigar shop is out of the way, maybe we can agree on a budget framework. Time is running short.
The board had called the meeting several weeks ago to listen to public comments about the proposed sale, but the commissioners decided last week to cancel the sale and to use the meeting to discuss the budget.
Selling the cigar shop was a distraction that merely complicated our budget discussions. Without the sale, the choice becomes simple: Either we raise taxes or we don’t.
Our town manager has presented us with two workable, balanced budgets. One raises taxes four cents, bringing the tax rate to where it was in 2013 before a previous board cut it in an ill-advised, election-year maneuver that has cost the town almost a million dollars in lost tax revenue. The additional money in that budget, about $180,000, will allow us to spend more on needed capital improvements, like sidewalks, and put money aside for big-ticket items, like fire trucks, that we know we’ll have to buy in the next five to seven years.
The other proposed budget keeps the tax rate where it is now. It provides the same level of services to residents, pays for the two new policemen we added earlier this year and needed equipment for the fire and public works departments, provides our employees with a modest raise and maintains their health benefits. This budget, though, sets aside little money for sidewalks and no money for those big, future expenses.
It merely kicks the can down the road. A tax increase is inevitable – we haven’t had one in a decade – if we want to maintain services, put aside money for needed, future expenses and provide for our employees.
I’m going to suggest to the board that we kick the can for one more year and support the no-tax-increase budget. I’m not usually in favor of putting off tough decisions, but I don’t get the sense that a majority on the board would agree on what to put in the can if we were to pick it up.
And there’s not a whole lot of time left to figure it out. The town manager must release to the public a budget framework in about two weeks. State law requires that a balanced budget be approved by June 30.
My advice then is to maintain the status quo and commit to spending the rest of the year figuring out what our needs are, what they’ll cost and how we can raise the money. This will be a good year to do that. We’ll soon release the town’s new economic strategic plan and have started the process to update our state-required land use plan. Both look to the future. So should the board. We could commit to set aside real time at board meetings every couple of months to talk about the town’s future and how we’ll pay for it.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. It’s your money we’ll be talking about. You might as well come by and tell us how you think we should spend it.