If you have a stake in the future of Southern Shores in terms of how its revenues will be spent, how and which of its capital improvements will be funded, and how its land-use planning will proceed, we strongly urge you to attend or live-stream the Town Council’s budget workshop tomorrow at 9 a.m. in the Pitts Center.
Town Manager Cliff Ogburn has designated tomorrow’s budget discussion as the first step in an FY 2021-22 budget adoption process (see p. 16 of the meeting materials) that will culminate next June.
He also intends to use this forum for other key budgetary decisions, including what to do with the FY 2020-21 revenue surplus that the Town has, thanks to the large influx of vacationers who were undeterred by COVID-19, and how to start long-range planning, which the previous town manager never did.
The meeting will be live-streamed, but not Zoomed. It is open to members of the public who wear masks and practice social distancing. See the Town’s YouTube site at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.
This is the second time that a Southern Shores Town Council meeting will be live-streamed, thanks to Mr. Ogburn, who has made this convenience standard procedure. The first was the Oct. 6 meeting.
If you do not attend the meeting in person and wish to comment during the one public comment period scheduled, please email your comment to Town Clerk Sheila Kane by 5 p.m. today, and either the Mayor or the Mayor Pro Tem will read it at the meeting.
Please limit your comment to three minutes’ reading time. Ms. Kane’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may access the agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2020-10-20.pdf.
We have had the time only to skim, not peruse, all of Mr. Ogburn’s meeting materials, but we are impressed with his work product: his preparation, his proposals, his direction, and his forward thinking. We summarize it as follows:
*The Town Manager has asked the Town Council to consider amending the FY 2020-21 budget to include items that the Council previously cut in anticipation of lost revenues due to the effects of COVID-19. These include Town building upgrades previously discussed; and street improvement projects that were postponed, such as the reconstruction of Hillcrest Drive from its intersection with Hickory Trail to the SSCA tennis courts.
A total of $1,612,102 was budgeted in FY 2020-21, and then removed by the Town Council to guard against a COVID-19 revenue shortfall, for these expenditures.
*Mr. Ogburn is seeking a discussion on new expenditures for FY 2020-21, such as those for the start of an ongoing beach nourishment fund, Town website improvements, police equipment and an additional police officer, and a gradual increase in the amount that the Town is required to maintain in the Unassigned Fund Balance, which accountant/auditor Teresa Osborne reported two weeks ago had $5,995,546 in it, as of July 30,2020.
This is an increase of $1,822,225 over the balance in the fund as of July 30, 2019, according to Ms. Osborne.
These additional recommended expenses total $636,500, according to Mr. Ogburn’s proposed budget figures on page 14 of the meeting packet.
Mr. Ogburn already has obtained a proposal from Outer Banks Internet for a redesigned and upgraded Town website, to be operated on WordPress software, which The Beacon uses. (See pp. 17-24 of the meeting packet.)
We enthusiastically support an overhauled website and say: Thank you! It’s about time.
We also strongly support Mr. Ogburn’s idea that the minimum balance of the Town’s Unassigned Fund Balance, which now must be maintained with at least $1.75 million in it for emergency purposes, be increased over a period of five years to $3 million. In the first fiscal year, he proposes allocating $250,000 to the fund.
*Mr. Ogburn also proposes that the Town Council discuss at tomorrow’s workshop a potential framework for a “concerted strategic long-range planning process.” He suggests that the elected officials first take up a Capital Improvement Plan with projected spending over a five-year period.
A “capital improvement,” according to the meeting materials compiled by Mr. Ogburn, is one with a cost of at least $5,000 and a useful life of five years or more. It is typically related to street improvements, new staff positions, real property acquisition or development, a large dollar expenditure, vehicles, etc., etc. (See p. 9 of the packet.).
Mr. Ogburn presents his draft capital improvement plan for the current fiscal year through fiscal year 2025-26 in the meeting packet on pp. 14-15. It shows the debt service due on the new fire station, as well as projections for beach nourishment funding, in the event the 2022 project costs $16,685,800.
“Development of the Capital Improvement Plan is intended to ensure that decision makers are responsible to residents and businesses of the Town with respect to the expenditure of public funds,” Mr. Ogburn writes. “The CIP also promotes the delivery of continuous efficient services. It is an actual plan that lays out a budget for and a schedule of municipal expenditures. . . . ”
“Without accurately and adequately preparing for future expenditures,” he continues, “communities are left to implement improvements based on emergencies or surprises.”
We will stop here and let Mr. Ogburn himself pick up tomorrow.
We congratulate our new town manager for doing the heavy lifting on long-range Town planning and budgeting that should have been done years ago. He is the proverbial breath of fresh air in an environment that has been stale for too long.
Please give him an audience and share with him your opinions and ideas.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/19/20