At their March 8 meeting, the Ocean View Town Council approved the town’s 2012-fiscal-year budget.
“The council, in its wisdom, said, ‘We have to get well. We can’t keep doing this,’” said Mayor Gordon Wood, adding that the council has reduced deficit spending from spending $1.60 for every dollar earned in 2007 to $1.20 for every dollar brought in currently. “It looks very, very promising that we will have achieved the ‘Get Well Program’ at the end of the five years.”
“You will see a total savings of $674,491 in savings by reducing employee benefits, in the healthcare area, in salary reductions and in the decrease of overtime,” explained Town Manager Conway Gregory.
Annual departmental operating budgets will increase by 1.5 percent – half of what was originally proposed – saving the town $101,000 per year. A chipper that was to be purchased for the public works department was eliminated, saving $16,236, and professional services will be reduced from $126,000 to $110,000 — a savings of $16,000.
As the proposal stands, the town will continue with 8 percent tax increases annually through the 2013 fiscal year and in 2014 reduce the annual increase to 5 percent.
“The mayor has coined our budget for the past three years, which will continue for the next two years, as the ‘Get Well Program,” noted Gregory. “This program was developed by the council to address the deficit. If we stay with that plan, you are pretty much guaranteed that, in FY ’14 and ’15, you’ll have your deficits behind you. But it does require tax increases.”
Gregory said that, in the projected 2015 and 2016 budgets, there is no proposal for tax increases, but he emphasized that the council must get control of spending, recognize there’s a drainage problem that must be addressed and notice that the town is receiving 80 cents for every 20 cents, in return for the sidewalk program.
“You may still be facing some tax increases. It all depends on variables beyond our control,” he said.
Councilman Perry Mitchell moved to amend the proposed budget, suggesting the council find a path to a 0 percent tax increase for the next five years, citing the facts that the town has already imposed two years of 8 percent tax increases; that, through the March 1 workshop, taxes were reduced by 19 percent over the next five years; and that the council “hired an additional police officer without investigating budget restraints.”
Mitchell’s motion did not receive a second and was not voted upon.
“I do want to commend the council for getting the savings that they did on March 1. And it’s a good start, but we just need to go further,” he said.
“We have the appearance – in fact, we have balanced the budget. You’re in a surplus starting in ’14, ’15, ’16… but how have we done it?” asked resident Cliff Mitchell, adding that “$1.5 million use of reserves and $1.5 million of tax increases equate to 43 percent. This is to me a kind of funny way to get well, and you’re still left with two-thirds of that drainage project unfunded.”
“If you were sitting here, what would you do?” inquired Wood.
Mitchell asserted that the public safety department seems to be the only area where there is enough flexibility for cutting costs. Resident and mayoral candidate George Pickrell agreed with Mitchell.
“Part of my budget proposal was eliminating that eighth officer,” Pickrell said. “You’ve got to do it. It’s hard to say, but you’ve got to let him out… We’re in tough economic times. We don’t have the money.”
Resident Joe Fedick said the town could save $180,000 by eliminating police vehicles.
“These are the decisions we’ve got to make,” Fedick said, “and it just seems like everybody is afraid to touch the police department.”
“The public safety department should not be touched,” affirmed resident Elaine Birkmeyer, who voiced her opposition to the town’s sidewalk grant. “You can’t spend more money than you’re taking in. You just can’t. We’re managing as it is.”
Resident and mayoral candidate Lloyd Elling suggested the town could consider in the future finding savings in contracted services. He also asked for the 8 percent tax increase to be quantified — to see what people actually have to pay.
Finance Director Lee Brubaker said that, for a house appraised at $500,000, the tax increase would be $46 a year, or $3.83 per month.
Resident Steve Micciche noted that he’s on Social Security but said he supports the tax increase.
“If I can’t live with $3 a month, there’s a problem. I think we should live with the 8 percent,” Micciche said.
Council voted 4-1 to approve the 2012 budget, with Mitchell opposed.
“It has been an honest-to-God pleasure to work with the town manager, to work with Lee, to work with my colleagues on the council in developing this,” said Wood. “I doubt that any of us had any ideas on the number of hours it was going to take on the part of our staff, on the part of the council, on the part of the public.”
Councilman Bob Lawless credited former councilman Roy Thomas for being one who took a hard look at the town’s finances and helped develop the budget model.
“His work putting together the model is an extraordinary benefit to our town, and I want to publicly thank him for that work,” Lawless said.
In other news from the March 8 meeting:
• Mayoral candidate George Pickrell addressed a rumor suggesting that, if he were elected, Police Chief Ken McLaughlin would either resign or be fired.
“This rumor is false,” said Pickrell.
“It’s an absolute lie,” confirmed McLaughlin, “and I have no intention of resigning, no matter who’s elected.”
• A public information workshop for Phase II of the Woodland Avenue Pedestrian Improvements project will be held March 29 at 5:30 p.m. at town hall.
• Candidates’ Night will be held March 21 at 6 p.m. in town hall. Candidates will present their platforms and answer questions from the public. All citizens are being encouraged to attend and participate.
•The town will hold its annual election Saturday, April 9, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.