In their first workshop on the budget that will be proposed for 2021-22, Swansboro commissioners have as their goal to keep the tax rate at 35 cents.
With that in mind, the panel did discuss adding personnel.
The presentation came in an online format using the Zoom platform at the board’s regular meeting on April 12.
At the top of the personnel list offered by Chris Seaberg, town manager, are a planning technician in the Administrative Services Department; a maintenance technician for the Streets/Public Works Department; and a driver/operator for the Swansboro Fire Department. All of these positions, according to Seaberg’s presentation, have been figured into the proposed budget. The list also includes a Church Street Dock dock master, a position that is not – but could be – included in the proposed budget.
Salaries and benefits for the planning technician are set at $59,803; for the maintenance technician, $51,799; and for the driver/operator, $51,236.
Seaberg plugged in $55,545 for a full-time dock master. That was the job commissioners were most interested in discussing.
In the past few months Swansboro has taken over operation of the Swansboro Visitor Center at the corner of Water and Church streets.
While the town staff has made arrangements to greet visitors, plans are also in the works to make the center more “boater-friendly.” Renovation plans at the center include adding shower and laundry facilities, primarily for transient boaters who overnight at the Church Street Dock a block away on the White Oak River.
The Church Street Dock is a 10-slip facility – a public-private partnership with the owners of Through the Looking Glass and the Port O’Swannsborough Shops – that includes some amenities for transient boaters, such as water, electric and pump-out.
Commissioner P.J. Pugliese said he wanted more information.
“With the salary here (for) someone year-round … I’d like to see some job description throughout the year,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re not paying someone a salary who only works half a year.”
The concern – shared by many among the panel – is that the dock master post, when it was first proposed, was considered to be part-time.
Commissioner Frank Tursi, long a proponent of hiring a dock master, suggested a more gradual approach to the employee.
“I agree with P.J.,” he said. “We have spent money now … on a facility for boaters. Without the dock master we are essentially cutting our nose off here.” But, he added, “I’m not willing right now to close the door on finding someone for the eight or nine months a year … locally.
“Let’s come up with a description of what we want this person to do.”
Seaberg reminded the board that early in the planning stages, the hope was that the dock master would be a “self-sufficient” position, whose expenses would be covered by the funds generated through the Church Street Dock usage. The dock accounts for about $19,000 in annual revenue.
“So, we are not quite there,” Seaberg said.
Commissioner Larry Philpott suggested gathering details from other, similar situations.
“We’ve got 10 slips,” he said. “How many communities have 10 boat slips and a dock master to manage them?”
Philpott said the dock master could be a “hybrid position” with dock master being part of the job description. He also said he believed the work could be contracted out.
Following the meeting, Seaberg said more information will be gathered for the commissioners.
“Where we are right now is we’ll do a job description for them to consider,” he said. “Part-time is a possibility.” But, he added, “Ultimately, it will be full-time.”
The budget proposed for 2021-22 will not include an increase in the tax rate, according to Seaberg. The rate will remain at 35 cents per $100 of a property’s value.
Swansboro’s budget year includes the 12 months from July 1 through June 30.
The manager’s recommendation for the 2021-22 budget includes $4,398,234 in projected expenditures. Projected revenues are, of course, $4,398,234 as well. However, a large part of the revenue – $454,406 – will be moved from the town’s unappropriated fund balance.
Unappropriated fund balance is made up of funds that should be sufficient for the town to operate for at least one month. However, coastal communities are generally tasked with keeping much more than the 8 percent minimum.
According to the audit for the 2020 budget, Swansboro’s unassigned fund balance totaled $2,229,423. That amounts to about 50 percent of the annual budget.
Swansboro expects to collect $1,757,998 in property taxes for the 2020-21 fiscal year. For the coming year, the town anticipates collecting $1,834,718 in property taxes.
Assuming a collection rate of 99 percent, which Seaberg anticipates, each penny of the tax rate to equal $52,421 for the coming fiscal year.
The current fiscal year budget, which is in effect through June 30, includes anticipated revenues of $4,286,869 and anticipated expenditures of $4,546,776, a $259,907 shortfall, according to the presentation.
“That puts us in a position of relying on the undesignated fund balance,” Seaberg said.
He also said the shortfall includes salary and benefits adjustments added in in January. Taking that into account, Seaberg said, “This is still a good budget … in the big pictures. We anticipated it (shortfall) could have been as high as $600,000 and it’s been scaled back to $250,000.”
Tursi asked if the shortfall could be covered from the federal funds Swansboro expects to receive through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Swansboro anticipates receiving funds in the amount of two payments, each worth $490,000, through the American Rescue Plan Act, according to Seaberg.
The funds are being doled out to local governments in response to the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Seaberg said that he would look into that.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.