Fenwick’s $1.7M Budget Holds Property Tax Rate Steady

FENWICK ISLAND –The Town Council approved Fenwick Island’s new budget last Friday that will keep property taxes at the same rate, despite increases in expenses.

“When we get to this point in the budget process, it is exciting because it means we have spent a great deal of time with department heads, staff, budget committee and council putting together a document that outlines the financial plan for the future year in Fenwick,” said Town Manager Merritt Burke as he prepared to present the Fiscal Year 2015 Financial Plan for the Town of Fenwick Island.

The FY15 Financial Plan was drafted by the Town Budget Committee in May. There were two public budget committee meetings held at Town Hall where the Budget Committee reviewed a statement of expenses, a statement of revenues and a statement of capital improvement budget expenses. FY15 will kick off on Aug. 1 as FY14 comes to an end at the end of the month.

According to the FY15 Financial Plan, overall, the town is in a good financial position with over $2 million in reserves from past realty transfer taxes, operating surpluses and minimal debt. Town debt consists of approximately $150,000 owed on the new Public Safety Building (PSB) that will be $50,000 less as a payment is included in the FY15 Capital Improvement Budget. All other equipment and vehicles are owned outright except for the monthly vehicle lease on a Toyota van.

The FY15 Operating Budget was balanced by appropriating the accumulated surplus from FY14 of about $14,000. Expenses increased 4 percent due to workers compensation insurance, salaries, a second facility and a nominal increase in goods and services.

“Workers Compensation rates have continued to increase by 40 percent over the last three years. That has been a major cost driver for the Town of Fenwick Island, as well as local retailers and construction companies in town and up and down the state,” Burke said. “That has had a major impact on our budget.”

Revenues also increased due to slight increases in property taxes, rental receipt taxes, a nominal increase in license fees and an increase in the solid waste administration and collection fee.

According to the Financial Plan, the Town of Fenwick Island provides the following services: a full-time, certified police department; three full-time public works department employees; an administration department that includes a building official/code enforcement officer, a town clerk, an administrative clerk and a professional town manager; and a seasonal beach patrol of 30 professional lifeguards. Additionally, the town has several volunteer committees that contribute budgeting, emergency management, parking, ordinances and environmental issues.

In FY15, the Town of Fenwick Island will deliver municipal services through a $1.7 million operating budget with capital improvement expenses of $227,000, Municipal Street Aid expenses of $30,000 and law enforcement grants of $20,000.

“Over the last two years, the council has invested heavily in capital improvements … repairing roads, replacing carpet, equipment and vehicles,” Burke said.

Included in this year’s Capital Improvement expenses is funding for continued advancement in Information Technology, conferences, emergency supplies, a payment to the Bank of Ocean City on the debt owed for the new PSB, a replacement motor vehicle for the police department, as well as ammunition, a drainage project on West Dagsboro Street among other drainage projects, a replacement truck and plow for the Public Works Department and the stone project to protect the town’s investment in local roadways.

As proposed, the FY15 Operating Budget will have the property tax rate remain the same at $1.92 per $100 of assessed value. The Ambulance Service Fee was increased to $53 per year to assist with the purchase of a new ambulance and long-term capital improvements due to higher demand for emergency services. Business license fees will increase $25 from $150 to $175 and the solid waste administration and disposal fee will increase $30 from $269 to $299.

“In this particular fiscal year, we are seeing an uptick in building permit fees, new homes and renovations, so we are using some of that money to balance next year’s budget,” Burke said. “The budget proposed is also eliminating the contractual yard waste service with Blue Hen that will save the Town over $10,000. Public Works will begin on July 17 picking up yard waste for the next five collection days, which is once every month through December to start again in the spring.”

The financial plan concluded revenues such as property taxes, gross rental receipt taxes, building permits and Comcast cable fees are all forecasted higher due to an improving economy related to residential construction and stronger demand for retail goods and services. Expenses such as workers’ compensation insurance premiums, health care insurance rates, maintenance on equipment, facilities and vehicles, and personnel salaries are all forecasted to be higher due to inflationary increases in goods and services.

The council voted unanimously to approve the budget as proposed without discussion.