Bethany passes $9 million budget

Bethany Beach is ready to roll into its 2007 fiscal year with a $9.4 million budget. Council members approved the budget at their March 17 session, adding a whole new element of green to their rare St. Patrick’s Day meeting.

Of the $9-plus million in the general fund budget, $4.8 million of that comes in the operating budget, $1.1 million in the capital budget for the year and $1.16 million in capital projects remaining and budgeted in prior fiscal years. The remaining expenditures include reserve funds for emergencies, beach and boardwalk, upcoming Sanitation Department needs and unfunded contingencies.

On the revenue side: a matching $9.4 million, including approximately $4.15 million from cash and investments existing at the start of the fiscal year and $5.225 million in revenue for the year.

The town’s Water Department — a separate financial entity — has a budget of approximately $1.86 million, including $397,000 in capital budgeting and $198,900 in remaining capital projects from previous years. The Water Department’s debt service was anticipated to bring in $428,000 in both revenues and expenses.

There were, as always, last-minute adjustments to the budget, accounting not only for minute bits of interest and expenditure affecting the carryover from the 2006 fiscal year that ends April 1 but also for adjustments to several line items that were finalized since the Budget and Finance Committee’s Feb. 10 meeting, at which the final draft was accepted and put forward for a public hearing and council vote.

The newest additions:

• $29,000 additional debt service funding, to account for the decision to pay off the town’s loan on the former Neff property early, netting approximately $20,000 in savings for the town by the time interest paid and earned is included;

• $25,000 of operating budget from the 2006 fiscal year, carried over for repair to water damage at the town hall, which has not yet been completed;

• $35,000 in the operating budget for furniture and fixtures at town hall, including improvements to the town hall meeting room, where council members will get new chairs and plans call for a wall honoring past council members;

• $35,000 in general funds and $5,400 for the Water Department, both under operating budgets, to account for an unexpectedly sharp 25 percent anticipated increase in health insurance costs;

• $10,000 in additional costs for computer hardware and software, with plans to change support vendors and, at the same time, finally install a central server at town hall;

• Approximately $20,000 to cover the contract for design services by Jeff Schoellkopf, as recommended by the town’s commercial architectural guidelines committee and later approved by the town council;

• $3,000 in increased advertising costs, which Town Manager Cliff Graviet attributed to increasing numbers of committee events and meetings;

• $2,400 for Taser devices to equip the town’s court bailiffs (Graviet noted the bailiffs would be receiving mandatory police training in their use, when asked by committee members);

• Changes to the town’s Schedule of Fees, with a $100 water turn-off fee being joined by a $150 after-hours restoration fee to account for additional manpower costs in such cases, and the $700 fee for installation of a tap on a town water main being loosened to a $700 to $1,200 range that accounts for varied amounts of work needed depending on the site; and

• An estimated $20,000 additional for the sale of fixed assets from the Public Works Department, with the departments skid loader and a truck set to be replaced this fiscal year.

Town Council Secretary-Treasurer Tony McClenny later called the budget “very conservative” in presenting it to council members for their vote. He noted real estate transfer tax, property tax, rental tax as major sources of funding for the town and pronounced the town “in good financial shape.”

That assessment was backed up by the numbers he provided at the council meeting, marking the 2006 fiscal year from its April 1 start through Feb. 28. Revenue was at 100.9 percent of anticipated levels, compared to 106.7 percent at the same point in 2005. That was an actual increase of $664,800. On the expenditure side, the town expended 84.56 percent of its anticipated expenditures, compared to 87.84 percent in 2005. That meant expenses were up just $330,352 over the prior year.

McClenny said Bethany Beach’s revenue continues to exceed its expenses, allowing for capital projects involving stormwater management, beautification and open-space preservation. He said such projects ensure a high quality of life for residents and visitors alike.

Attendance at the afternoon public hearing on the draft budget was even lower than the sparse two-person representation of the general public at the 2006 edition, with only Jeri Walsh — wife of Mayor Jack Walsh — and Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Mink present among an audience of what was otherwise Budget and Finance Committee members, town council members and town staff.

There were no questions asked — a happenstance mirrored later in the evening, when neither the public or council members had any additional questions. The council voted unanimously to accept the budget, setting the town on track to head into its new fiscal year on April 1.