UPDATED: South Bethany proposes smaller tax increase

UPDATE: South Bethany Town Council adopted the proposed budget on a 6-0 vote on May 16, with Councilman John Fields absent.
On Friday, May 8, the South Bethany Town Council met to present their updated draft budget for the 2010 fiscal year. The new budget included cuts to a number of areas of spending and sets the town’s property taxes at $1.30 per $100 of assessed value. Though there were still a few minor areas of contention, the second draft of the 2010 budget was received by the townsfolk present at the meeting far more warmly than the previous draft, which would have raised property taxes by roughly 150 percent.

The budget, which has been a major topic of discussion throughout South Bethany, will serve as a temporary fix to the financial crisis the town council has been worried about. The crisis arose from a decrease in property sales, and therefore the associated transfer tax revenue coming into the town. Within the last five years, transfer tax revenue – which once made up 44 percent of the town’s budgeted revenue – has dropped to only 15 percent of the needed revenue.

“The party is over, folks,” said Mayor Gary Jayne, in reference to the town’s history of low taxes and high rental rates. “The goose that laid the golden egg is dead. It’s time for South Bethany to start paying our own taxes.”

Numerous town residents spoke in support of the proposed budget, as revised. Though a few people expressed concern that the budget was “based on hope,” most speaking at last Friday’s meeting said they felt “taxes in South Bethany are extremely low in relation to most places,” such as the Virginia and Washington, D.C. area.

The new proposed budget will raise property taxes by about $300 dollars on the average property, which many in attendance on May 8 said they felt “doesn’t seem like a crazy amount.” Within Sussex County there are 21 municipalities. South Bethany has the 12th-lowest property tax rate.

Jayne explained, however, “With this budget, chances are likely that we’ll have to raise taxes again next year.”

Some South Bethany residents have been concerned that once taxes are raised, it would be difficult to get them lowered in the future, and they expressed a desire for the budget to include an expiration date, of sorts, on the higher tax rate.

“It’s impossible to know when the economy will change,” said Jayne, explaining that the budget itself expires each year and is re-evaluated annually.

The newly proposed budget can be found on South Bethany’s Web site, on the online bulletin board, at www.southbethany.org/bboard.php. Residents are being encouraged to familiarize themselves with the new draft before the planned May 16 vote, scheduled for 10 a.m.