FENWICK ISLAND – A handful of fee increases highlight the annual spending plan approved by the Fenwick Island Town Council last week.
On May 27, the town council approved a $2 million budget for the fiscal year beginning Aug. 1. While some town fees have gone up, for the 13th year in a row there will be no increase in property taxes.
“Every year is challenging,” said Town Manager Merritt Burke. “This year is no exception.”
Fenwick Island, a town of 678 residential properties and 43 commercial properties, is expected to bring in $682,153 in property taxes in the coming year. Revenues from gross rental receipt taxes are expected to amount to $275,000. Realty transfer taxes should generate $274,088 in revenue. Building fees are projected to increase, bringing in $175,000 to the town.
“It’s a much healthier economy than last year,” Burke said. “We’re seeing that across the board. We’re not in a recession.”
He said that though a number of commercial properties had been vacant during the winter, they had since been leased.
“At one point over the winter things were very bleak,” he said. “We had a number of vacancies. A lot of those vacancies are now leased. We expect strong rental receipt taxes.”
He said the budget, which allocates $609,225 to Fenwick’s six-member police department, would allow for 24/7 public safety coverage.
As far as capital expenses, Burke said there were plans to spend $180,700 on drainage improvements and minor repairs to the town’s two municipal buildings.
“This is what we need to do,” Burke said. “We could spend more money but right now this is a good amount.”
He said drainage in particular was an area that needed significant improvement but would be addressed gradually.
“You could spend a couple hundred thousand a year fixing drainage,” he said. “A lot of the pipes have collapsed or deteriorated. We’re taking a band-aid approach and fixing the worst problems in town.”
The capital budget also includes $2,300 for the replacement of the chairs in the council meeting room. Burke said the town’s capital budget would be funded through municipal street aid from the state, a dedicated street fund, the realty transfer tax and the community transportation fund.
Burke told the council one area in which revenues continued to drop was the lifeguard stand sponsorship program. The program allows area businesses to pay $500 to advertise on the side of a lifeguard stand and $800 to advertise on the back of a stand. It generated $13,000 the first year it was offered but revenue has dropped each of the ensuing years.
“It continues to decrease,” Burke said. “It’ll probably plateau around $3,000 or $4,000.”
He said expenses in the lifeguard department would increase in FY 2017, coming in at $279,277. The rise in costs is due to an increase in the number of days the lifeguards will be on the beach as well as slight salary increases.
“We’re paying market rate for our guards,” Burke said. “You want the best guards on the beach. You want certified guards that are passionate.”
Mayor Gene Langan said the town would be creating an ad-hoc financial committee to look at long-term issues such as beach replenishment, dredging and taxes in the near future. Council member Julie Lee said she applauded the idea, particularly because the residential and commercial tax rates remained the same.
“I just think it’s something we should be getting back in line,” she said. “That certainly would be more revenue for the town.”