Fenwick Island approves $1.4 million budget

Members of the Fenwick Island Town Council approved a $1.4 million budget for the town’s 2006 fiscal year at their meeting Friday, June 24. The 6-0 vote (Mayor Peter Frederick was absent) reflected the lengthy process that involved input from the community, department heads, committee members and council members over recent months.

The budget remained unchanged from its final draft version, excepting an apparent math error of some $2,000 from the final total for the police department’s planned expenditures. Before final passage, that amount was corrected in an amendment to the budget and offset by an additional $2,000 that will be drawn from the town’s realty transfer tax revenues for the year.

The budget calls for $1.43 million in expenditures and the same amount incoming in the form of revenues.

As amended, those revenues now include $112,595 of the town’s total anticipated realty transfer taxes (up from $110,595 in the draft presented), in a move designed to make the budget revenue neutral without raising taxes. (Remaining transfer taxes will go into other town accounts and reserves, with at least 1/3 required to be reserved.)

The budget (both anticipated revenues and planned expenditures) is an approximate 12 percent increase from the figures in 2005 fiscal year budget — $1.28 million.

Council Member Vicki Carmean had raised objections to the 20 percent planned increase in total police department salaries during the final review of the draft budget June 7, citing how significant that figure was in comparison to the 3.3 percent average increase in total salaries for all town employees.

Carmean said she realized the increase from $240,000 in the 2005 fiscal year budget to $289,500 in the 2006 fiscal year budget reflected known increases in overtime for police officers but she was emphatic that the town not write a “blank check” for the police department’s overtime needs.

Public Safety Commissioner and Council Member Theo Brans said at the time that the amount reflected not only this year’s known increase in overtime but also an overall increase in the number of tickets issued by Fenwick Island police — a figure that results in overtime due to court appearances by the officers as some of the tickets are fought and taken to court.

Committee and council members had agreed that monitoring overtime for the department would be a priority this year, with any plans to reduce overtime being developed based on that scrutiny. That intention was reiterated during discussion of the budget prior to its passage.

Also contributing to the increase in salaries for the department is the fact that the town has hired additional part-time officers to ensure full coverage overnight and on busy weekends during the summer.

Among other significant changes from the 2005 budget to the 2006 version are:

• Increases in gas and oil expenditures, representing an estimate based on expected use and anticipated continuing increases in petroleum prices;

• Increases in engineering services costs, due to ongoing drainage and flooding issues in the town (deemed a top priority by committee members, due to public feedback);

• Decreases in capital expenses for public works, due to a focus on grounds, maintenance and equipment in the coming year, with an increase in salaries due to employee retention and one additional employee hired;

• Increases in lifeguard salaries, due to a high rate of return for experienced lifeguards, as well as planning ahead for anticipated annual raises and uniform costs in the first months of the 2006 summer season as part of the 2006 fiscal year (previously, raises were given in August, to coincide with the fiscal calendar);

• An increase ($400 to $1,000) in expenses for the town’s Junior Lifeguard program (anticipated to pay for itself through fees, but without revenues planned in the budget due to unknown participation);

• No increase in reimbursement for lifeguard salaries from the state (despite a town request for such). The state reimbursed Fenwick Island for $50,000 in salaries and equipment in the previous year, for coverage of the state-controlled beach, with the same amount ($3,000 of which is shifted to equipment over salaries) anticipated in the 2006 budget. (The Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce contributed $500 to salaries in both years.)

• Increased costs for printing and advertising, largely due to a need for new business cards and letterhead this year;

• Increases in garbage fees revenue, brought about as a result of increased tipping fees to the town for use of the landfill, as well as planning for capital expenses in the future;

• Decreases in insurance costs, created and offset by the division of workmen’s compensation costs into a separate category and allowing for normal annual increases in insurance rates ($108,000 total in both years);

• Increases in postage and printing costs due to increased reliance on outside mailing services — a move it was hoped would increase efficiency for administrative employees (to be monitored during the year to prove efficiency);

• Increases in revenue from interest on the town’s financial accounts (attributed to finance officer Gary Esposito’s work on finding high-yield accounts);

• No increase in property rental receipt taxes ($225,000), due to a decline in property rentals;

• Decreases in rental licenses ($22,000 to $20,000), again due to a decline in rentals;

• Increases in property taxes ($450,000 to $480,000), due to an increase in taxable properties;

• A $140,000 amount coming in under revenues, due to a budget surplus from the 2004 fiscal year that was not previously applied but instead held in a cash account;

• Increases in “service grants” ($750 to $2,500) to reflect the town’s new donation policy and planned grants to the Fenwick Island Lighthouse ($500), Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s ambulance service ($1,000) and Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company ($1,000);

• Capital expenses of $3,800 (up from $3,000) to replace one of the town hall air system components;

• Increases in office equipment maintenance ($7,500 to $9,500) to reflect replacement of equipment, computer services and copying costs, as well as an increase in offices supplies costs ($8,600 to $10,500) attributed to normal price increases;

• Increases in capital expenses for office furniture and systems ($2,500 to $12,000), reflecting the purchase of a recommended dedicated server with a backup drive, as well as ongoing purchase of new office furniture;

• Decreases in building maintenance ($14,800 to $10,900) reflecting projects done in 2004 and 2005, with men’s room renovations, repair of a handicapped access ramp and painting of town hall planned in the coming year; and

• Maintenance contracts for $11,700, to cover maintenance for the newly planted median strips, HVAC, termite control and janitorial services.

Budget and Finance Committee Chairwoman and Council Member Audrey Serio noted that the budget had been intended to be as realistic as possible, based not only on department requests but on known expenditures for the year-to-date, as well as anticipated cost increases for items such as fuel.

She was unable to provide a concrete figure at the June 24 council meeting but did note that the budget for the 2005 fiscal year was expected to come in with a surplus by the time the fiscal year ends July 31. (Financial Consultant Gary Esposito had cited an $18,000 surplus present as of the June 7 budget meeting.) Serio said she would aim to have a specific figure for any surplus available at future budget votes.

The $140,000 surplus from the 2004 fiscal year did raise at least one question as to why it was decided to put it directly into the budget as revenue rather than counting it as town holdings and taking that amount from total revenue streams.

Council Member Harry Haon said the town’s focus was on avoiding a surplus or deficit each year and not to carry either status over to the next. The specific decision on the $140,000, he said, was made by way of keeping the monies under budgetary control, rather than available in a cash account that could be spent more easily by the council were a sudden need to arise.

Serio said the budget process had called for much work but had resulted in a balanced budget that kept spending in check. She thanked all those who had participated, including council members, town staff (including Esposito and Town Administrator Helen Torres) and outside committee members Mark Tingle and John Lewis.

Council members further praised Serio’s work, as well as that of others involved, with Council Member Chris Clark calling the passage process “painless.” Carmean noted the work that had gone into making the process so easy.

Serio said she and Haon would be analyzing the town’s long-term goals and results of “visioning” meetings over the fall.