Monies for the SSVFD’s current operation and planning for a new fire station, construction of the East Dogwood Trail walkway, and expanded staff positions and salary increases topped the fiscal year 2018-19 budgeted expenses reviewed by Town Manager and Budget Officer Peter Rascoe at the Town Council’s special budget work session April 17.
The meeting, attended by Mayor Tom Bennett, all four Council members, Finance Officer Bonnie Swain, and Mr. Rascoe, lasted only two hours—far shorter than working budget sessions of recent years, which have consumed the better part of a day.
Before the session, preliminary projected FY 2018-19 expenses totaled $6,388,835, an amount that was $296,261 more than the preliminary projected income of $6,072,574– $5,143,088 of which is projected to come from ad valorem, sales, and other taxes.
The Town Council reduced the expenses by $34,000, eliminating some of the costs budgeted for a beach-profile study, bringing the shortfall to $262,261.
Mr. Rascoe will submit his Proposed Annual Operating Budget to the Town Council on May 1, 2018, during that body’s regular monthly meeting. A public hearing on the budget will be set for June 5, 2018, during the Council’s regular June meeting.
The Beacon does not recall a preliminary town budget ever showing a gap between income and expenses. It is clear from the data submitted by Mr. Rascoe that the town’s projects and staff are expanding rapidly.
In a blog posted April 12, 2018, The Beacon highlighted some of the larger expenses budgeted for FY 2018-19. They include $267,700 for “architectural services” in support of a new Southern Shores fire station, an estimated $5 million-plus project that has yet to be approved, and an increase of $138,870 in the annual capital-street appropriation, bringing the total for infrastructure projects, exclusive of East Dogwood Trail, to $654,870.
The preliminary budget further calls for an across-the-board 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for all full-time town employees—except the Town Planner and Permit Officer, who are receiving raises—and increases in costs for health insurance and retirement benefits. The Town contributes to Medicare, health, life, and dental insurance, state retirement, and a 401k plan for each full-time employee.
If the budget is approved as is, Planner/Code Enforcement Officer Wes Haskett will receive a $13,477 raise to compensate him for the newly created position of Deputy Town Manager. Mr. Haskett is already performing duties for both jobs, for which he will earn a total of $84,200. Permit Officer Dabni Shelton is slated to receive a $7,000 raise, bringing her salary to $64,738.
Although the Public Works Dept. has been operating with only a Public Works Supervisor since Public Works Director Rachel Patrick left in 2017, the FY 2018-19 budget calls for both managerial positions to be funded. Besides the director (total salary of $73,135) and supervisor ($56,552), the Public Works Dept., which maintains the town’s roads, buildings, parking lots, and other town-owned properties, has three full-time maintenance technicians and one part-time technician.
There has been no public discussion about why the Town Manager needs a deputy to help him do his job and what duties the deputy has.
Pursuant to sec. 2-21 of the Southern Shores Code, the town manager is appointed by, and serves at the pleasure of, the Town Council, which meets in closed session to discuss all personnel matters.
According to Beacon correspondent Susan Dineen, who attended the budget session, Mr. Rascoe is said to be “mentoring” Mr. Haskett.
Absent an employment contract, however, no future Town Council would be obligated to hire Mr. Haskett as Town Manager.
Town Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald have raised concerns in the past two years about employee compensation. Southern Shores has among the highest salaried employees on the Outer Banks.
Town expenses for employees, including salaries and all benefits, constitute about 40 percent of the total projected expenses budgeted in FY 2018-19.
All employee compensation is a matter of public record.
Town Manager Rascoe is slated to earn nearly $159,656 in salary in FY 2018-19. In FY 2011-12, Mr. Rascoe earned a salary of $112,238. His salary, therefore, has increased 42 percent in seven years.
When town expenses for Medicare, health, life, and dental insurance, state retirement, and his 401k plan are added to Mr. Rascoe’s salary, the total cost to Southern Shores for his position in FY 2018-19 is nearly $207,000.
The preliminary total budget for the town’s administration department is $1 million, an amount that includes salaries and benefits for four employees, including the Town Manager, legal services ($61,500), operating expenses, and supplies; and the police department’s total preliminary FY 2018-19 budget is $1.69 million, $1.25 million of which is in salary and benefits.
FIRE DEPT./NEW STATION
The town’s projected FY 2018-19 appropriation for SSVFD services is $545,914, up from $481,925 in FY 2017-18, the $64,000 difference representing the base salary, before benefits, for a new deputy fire chief.
Mr. Rascoe announced at the meeting that the town’s 10-year contract with the fire department will expire in 2019 and, therefore, need to be negotiated anew.
According to Dineen, town officials discussed future budgeted monies for the SSVFD after the new fire station project is approved and construction begins. The SSVFD has reported that it can secure a 15-year loan, at 2.88 percent—terms that would obligate the town to pay $442,000 annually, in two $221,000 semiannual installments. It is possible that a first payment could be due in fall 2018, but no money has been allocated in the FY 2018-19 budget for it.
When the architectural services are added to the amount the town pays for contract fire protection services, Southern Shores’s total budget for the SSVFD in the next year is projected to be $813,614.
EAST DOGWOOD TRAIL
The 2018-19 budget reserves a $250,000 allocation for the East Dogwood Trail walkway, although the Town Council has yet to decide upon a design—or, at least, it has yet to inform the public of the design it has chosen.
Three options for walkway design materials have been floated by the engineering team of Deel/Anlauf, the cheapest of which calls for the 5-foot-wide walkway to be made of concrete.
The meandering walkway would start at the intersection of East Dogwood Trail with South and North Dogwood Trails and extend to N.C. Hwy. 12. It is expected to be built in the public right-of-way on the south side of East Dogwood Trail.
The most expensive, and most environmentally friendly, design option would use KBI (K.B. Industries) Flexi®-pave, which is a heavy-duty porous material made from recycled tires and stone. The third option is an asphalt walkway, which, like the concrete path, would be impervious.
If the town were to choose the Flexi®-pave option, it would have to clean and maintain the walkway surface, an added expense not necessary with concrete and asphalt.
According to an April 10, 2018 memo to Mr. Rascoe from engineer Joseph Anlauf, a concrete walkway can be constructed on East Dogwood Trail for $250,000, provided other elements that were previously a part of the original design plan are eliminated. These elements include all asphalt demolition (thus keeping the road, in its divided section, at its current width); all new asphalt and associated curbing; all shade trellises, park benches, bike racks, and municipal garbage and recycling cans that were to be placed en route; and all crosswalks to perpendicular streets.
Although no appropriation was included in the town budget for beach nourishment, Mayor Bennett observed at the meeting that any such projects would cost $10 million per mile, an increase from an earlier estimate of $5 million.
Councilman McDonald asked about installing sand fencing on the oceanfront, indicating an interest in being “proactive” about shoreline management. McDonald suggested putting money aside each year for future shoreline management.
The beach nourishment project done at Pelican Watch last summer cost the town $500,000, $150,000 of which is expected to be reimbursed through taxes paid by Pelican Watch homeowners over the next five years. Dare County contributed $500,000, as well.
The Town Council has until June 30, 2018, to adopt a budget. In each year of his first term, Mayor Tom Bennett moved forward with budget approval immediately after the public hearing, allowing for only limited consideration of any objections and concerns that citizens may raise.
Bearing that in mind, The Beacon encourages you to email your comments, concerns, and questions to the mayor and Town Council members before the June 5 meeting at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will publish a website link to the May 1 proposed budget as soon as one is available. Between now and June 5, we also will do research on salaries in other Outer Banks towns, to see how Southern Shores’s salaries compare.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, Editor-in-Chief
April 24, 2018