BLADENBORO — Mayor Rufus Duckworth was hoping to have a budget for fiscal year 2014-15 in place this week, but questions and concerns from a standing-room only crowd Monday caused the board to table the issue until later in the month.
The biggest concern voiced is a proposed 2-cent property tax increase to help fund a $1.673 million budget.
Now, the Bladenboro Board of Commissioners will put their heads together with interim Town Administrator Melanie Hester during a budget workshop and meeting on Monday, June 23.
“I really was hoping we could get it (the proposed budget) passed,” Duckworth said. “It’s a fair budget that begins to address some of the problems we face.”
High on that list of problems is the continuing decline in the town’s fund balance, which has taken a hit in five of the past eight years — but of those three where the fund balance increased, sale of town assets such as the old town hall and cell towers created the increase in two of those. The third year of increase was the result of an increased effort to collect back taxes.
“Let me first say that the town is solid; we are in good financial shape right now,” Duckworth said. “But we’re doing some heavy bleeding and we have to stop it. I’d like to do that in small steps.
“I’d just don’t want to see this town get like Fairmont,” he added. “I’m just being honest. We have to start watching every dollar now.”
Duckworth said the town will have some of its debt coming off the book between now and the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year, which will put Bladenboro in a good place financially.
“But we have to get there, first,” he said. “And if we have any kind of major catastrophe before then, we’d be in trouble.”
Currently, the town has $410,208 in its fund balance. Of that, the state mandates that it cannot touch 8 percent of that — or $109,238. Also untouchable for anything other than street work is another $12,901 in Power Bill monies. Duckworth said the 2013-14 town budget calls for $74,780 to be used out of the fund balance, which leaves a total of $161,746 available to the town.
“And that’s figuring in the 2-cent property tax increase,” Duckworth said.
The tax increase, if approved later this month, would raise only about $19,000 for the town. It would cost a resident with property valued at $100,000 about $20 more per year.
“It’s not much, really, but it will help Band-aid the bleeding,” Duckworth said. “Plus, we don’t have any more assets to sell. And selling those cell towers took away a long-term revenue for the town.”
In addition, Duckworth said that costs continue to go up in all other areas, most especially health insurance premiums for town employees. The proposed budget shows a 29.5-percent increase earmarked for employee health insurance.
The town has until June 30 to approve a new budget, which goes into effect on July 1. But Duckworth isn’t sure now which way the board will go.
“I thought most were on the same page (Monday), but we’ll see what happens,” he said. “I think fixing the town’s problems is why we were elected — to do what’s necessary for the good of Bladenboro as a whole. That’s how I plan to make all my decisions.”