Fenwick aims for "no frills budget"

Fenwick Island does not have a budget shortfall, Town Treasurer Audrey Serio clarified at a June 10 council workshop-without-agenda (WWA).

Serio said the $300,000 figure that had been mentioned in connection to the town’s draft budget for the coming fiscal year was needed to balance the budget, but it was available and coming from the town’s real estate transfer tax revenues. She said the shortfall, if any, was one of revenue compared to expenditures, and it was to be balanced with the transfer tax, she emphasized.

The draft 2007 fiscal-year budget, Serio said, would likely be one “without frills,” owing to the slow real estate market that has strongly impacted the town’s revenues from both transfer taxes and building permit fees in recent months — a trend of which council members can’t yet predict an end.

Council Member Vicki Carmean praised Serio, who in turn praised Mayor Peter Frederick, for efforts to delineate recurring and non-recurring expenses and revenues in the budget. Frederick has expressed concern about the town’s reliance on transfer tax and building permit fees, with both considered non-recurring revenues and therefore subject to unexpected falloffs during the budget year.

Serio said she expected the budget committee to hold one more meeting (on June 20) before presenting the draft budget to the council for possible adoption. Frederick emphasized, “The budget is a roadmap to tell the public how we plan to proceed. We were off this year. There was a shortfall on building permit fees, but we also didn’t buy furniture for town hall as we’d planned.”

Council Member Chris Clark noted that long-term budgetary efforts were focused on trying to put recurring revenue in line with recurring costs.

Resident Diane Tingle said the town should be looking at the services citizens want to cut, with the alternative of raising taxes to keep those levels of service in place. Serio said, “We’re trying to find a happy medium where everyone can work with it.”

Council members said garbage service had again been examined in the budget process, and again determined to be less costly for the town to provide than hiring an outside contractor. Frederick said the town also enjoyed better service with in-house collection.

Town manager search proceeding

Also at the June 10 WWA, Frederick updated citizens on the status of the town’s research into adding a town manager. He said the recommendations and background information had been received by council members from the search committee, with the two groups to meet soon in executive session to discuss the recommendations.

Frederick explained that the discussion would be out of the public eye due to the need to discuss financial issues and other elements that could affect eventual recruiting and negotiations with candidates.

Once that meeting is held, Frederick said, there would be some public discussion of the recommendations, followed by a council vote on whether to proceed to calling for applicants for such a position.

That could come as early as the council’s June meeting, but Carmean said she felt she needed more time to schedule the meeting with the search committee. A delay could push back a vote until July or later. Frederick said he feared that could mean not having a town manager in place until after the end of the calendar year, but Carmean held firm.

Regardless, the council has decided on a blind application process. Search Committee Chairman Buzz Henefin will facilitate the process, being the only one to see applicants’ names until decisions on the final candidates have been made but not himself participating in those decisions.

Frederick said he felt the blind process was necessary to eliminate any possible bias that might occur if candidates names were know to those evaluating the applications. He said he felt the most qualified candidates would reach the final round of selection if the blind process was used.