ATLANTIC BEACH — The council is scheduled to consider adoption of the fiscal year 2020-21 budget at its meeting Monday, June 22, but some concerns about police staffing and balancing the budget remain.
The Atlantic Beach Town Council met for a work session Tuesday in the town hall board room, with Councilman Harry Archer and others joining via Zoom. During the work session, the council discussed the proposed 2020-21 budget, which Town Manager David Walker said is drafted to maintain the existing ad valorem property tax rate of 18 cents per $100 of property value.
The council held a public hearing on the draft budget at the Tuesday work session. Additional public comments will be accepted at the June 22 council meeting, during which adoption of the budget may be proposed. The council is required by state law to adopt a balanced budget by the end of the fiscal year Tuesday, June 30.
While the draft budget is balanced, Mayor Pro Tem Rich Johnson expressed concern this was achieved by transferring less revenue to earmarked funds, instead leaving it in the general fund. This includes transferring $100,000 of tax revenue from a 1.5-cent tax rate increase the council put in place in 2019, when during the current fiscal year, $258,000 was transferred.
“I’ve told people that money is earmarked for the beach, our most important resource,” Mr. Johnson said. “We need to maintain this for beach uses. We’ve told citizens we need to build up our (beach fund) reserves, and now we’re taking the majority for regular operating expenses (in the draft budget). It’s literally robbing Peter to pay Paul to take money from those funds for something else.”
Mayor Trace Cooper said moving less money to the earmarked funds from the general fund may be necessary due to rising operating costs. However, he said the council needs to be “transparent” about its actions.
“With our beach fund, I think it’s okay to say we’re changing our policy (on fund use),” the mayor said. “I think we can responsibly say we don’t need all this 1.5-cent (revenue) for the beach. It’s a policy change.
“It’s different from what we said it would be used for, but circumstances have changed because of an $8 million (beach nourishment) project eligible for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) reimbursement,” he continued. “We’re not turning our back on this fund altogether, but I don’t know we need to put in a quarter of a million dollars every year.”
The mayor was referring to the beach nourishment project conducted in 2019 along much of Bogue Banks. The Carteret County Beach Commission oversaw the project to address beach erosion caused by Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Mr. Johnson was also concerned about proposals to increase police staffing. The Atlantic Beach Police Department currently has 14 full-time officers, and the draft budget includes funding for 16 sworn officers.
Police Chief Jeff Harvey, who was present at the work session, said the existing number of officers means they only have enough for three on-duty officers per shift.
“So if we have more than two people out for anything, we’re in a bind,” Councilman Danny Navey said.
While Mr. Johnson questioned the need for twice as many full-time officers per capita and per square mile as neighboring towns, Mr. Archer said he was advised by his two brothers, both of whom were in law enforcement, it would be to the town’s benefit to maintain the current police staffing level.
“I don’t know why we keep talking about this,” Mr. Archer said. “We did a study a few years back and found out…we’re entitled to 38 policemen, and we’re nowhere near that.”
According to the draft budget message, the proposed fiscal year 2020-21 budget totals $8,126,197. It includes a $6,495,900 general fund, a $1,328,047 water utility fund, a $200,000 stormwater fund and no appropriation for the beach nourishment/channel/access reserve fund. The general fund includes a $2,107,288 unassigned fund balance.
In other news at the meeting, the council received an update from N.C. League of Municipalities/Management and Personnel Services Group representative Becky Veazey on a draft update to the town’s personnel ordinance.
No action was taken on the update at the work session.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.