In a special meeting on Tuesday, Ocean View’s town council voted 3-2 to narrowly approve a 2007 fiscal-year budget that has been a source of confusion and controversy in the town for weeks and could still prove misleading in the town’s bottom line.
Roy Thomas — a member of the town’s Long Range Financial Planning Committee and its newest councilman, as of April — first presented the top-down alternative budget late last month. It was that budget the council accepted, after some minor changes were made at last week’s financial committee meeting.
But some town councilmen were not satisfied with the $4.9 million plan for 2007.
“I’m not at all happy with this budget,” said Councilman Bill Wichmann. “We said we would add additional employees. That was completely ignored and turned around.”
The budget passed on Tuesday would not allow for any full-time hires this year, and at least until 2013. Although the town did add $25,000 to the 2007 budget for a staffing study, to see if more employees are needed, Wichmann still voiced his displeasure, saying that the current town employees are overworked.
With the current level of staff, several of the projects that were introduced — such as installing coat racks in the town hall and getting a shuttle bus to make runs to and from the beach — can not get done, he said.
Councilman Norman Amendt agreed with Wichmann, saying that the town’s finance committee had cornered the council. He specifically said that the town shouldn’t have unisex restrooms in town hall and that a urinal should be installed in one restroom. But that, too, is one project among several that won’t get done this year because Ocean View’s financial committee has drawn a plan that does now allow for any new full-time help.
“I think the committee has caused more problems than corrections,” Amendt said, voicing an opinion he originally raised at last week’s financial committee meeting. “I wish I was smarter in finance because I would find more problems.”
Wichmann and Amendt — the councilmen who voted against the budget — also noted problems with individual line items, asking why $1,000 was taken out of the Citizen Auxiliary Patrol’s (CAP) budget and expressing more concern about the cut in next year’s salary increases.
Under the original budgetary plan, the town called for an 8 percent salary increase for all of the town’s employees next year. In the adopted budget, there is only a possible 5 percent increase next year, as well as a $2,000 budget cap — a plan Wichmann said looks as if it was drawn up to “dupe” the town’s emplyees.
“We have a dynamic staff,” Wichmann said. “I want to help them. We’re already not on par with Bethany Beach. We’re going to widen the gap.”
Eric Magill — the chairman of the town’s finance committee — said that he didn’t think that the town’s employees are treated poorly and the line items have matched 2006 actual, not proposed, expenditures. After the town decided to spend $5,000 for the CAP in the 2006 fiscal year, for instance, it had only spent just more than $2,600 through February.
In addition, he added, the salary increases are above those in some area towns, including Georgetown, and there is no evidence to the claim made last week that the town may lose employees in the future as a result. Town Manager Kathy Roth said that Georgetown only offers a 3 percent salary increase each year.
But besides the staffing issues, the revenue-versus-expenditures deficit was the real misleading part of the budget, which has the town spending $4.9 million in 2007. The town will only bring in about $1.8 million next year, leaving a single-year deficit of more than $3 million.
The expenditures include the total cost of the $1.97 million police station, however, and do not include the loan for the project before calculating the deficit. According to the budget, the town plans to put a $1 million down on the new 15,000-square-foot station, and borrow $1.2 million — a plan that Wichmann and Amendt also questioned on Tuesday, saying there is enough money in the general fund to pay for the station outright.
But as the budget was passed on Tuesday, there is only a true operational deficit of about $883,000 — rather than the reflected $3 million — and that will be covered by the general fund, which contains about $5 million. Comparatively, in the original budget plan — before Thomas introduced the top-down plan — the town had planned to have an operational deficit of more than $1.2 million.
With that taken into consideration, the 2007 fiscal year alternative budget has helped coined the term “fiscally responsible” for the town and is just the first step forward for the town’s long-term plan, which should balance the budget with the help of a 12 percent tax increase in 2012. Still, some councilmen don’t agree with its design.