July 2017

A Note From Our Mayors

Author: David Bennett & Lisa Sulka | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

A Note from David Bennett
2018 Budget Brings New Challenges

Solid, sound, safe, scrutinized and slender. In budget terms, that’s how we’ll describe it. For fiscal year 2018, our town determined to “maintain the core level of service, completion of capital projects already appropriated, and to continue the Hurricane Matthew clean-up efforts” (John Troyer, director of finance). How grateful every islander should be that, for decades, continuing into today, Hilton Head Island has been wise enough to financially plan for the unseen. Just the right balance has been struck between covering necessary hurricane recovery costs, while simultaneously restoring our reserves and continuing community services, engagement, and investment into our future. This longstanding commitment to our citizenry culminates in the delivery of this budget: solid, sound, safe, scrutinized and slender.

Sizing it up, this year’s budget is $20 million smaller than last year’s. In the four components which comprise our budget, the General Fund remained virtually unchanged from last year, up $700,000, while the Debt Service Fund increased $10.6 million and the Capital Improvement Plan decreased $32.5 million. Rounding out the components, the Stormwater Management Program increased $1 million.

Questions abound when taxes increase, and rightly so. Your Town Council scrutinized the budget, and so did many of you. If the General Fund is effectively unchanged, why the 1.18 mils Consumer Price Index increase? Your town has participated in a stunning effort of cash management since Hurricane Matthew swirled through our island (and our significant reserves) last October. With an estimate of $70 million in recovery costs, and reimbursement timing outside of our control, our reserves have also “weathered the storm” and are not available for cash management purposes in FY 2018. Last year’s budget did not balance, but was within a reasonable level to rely upon reserves for cash management. Not so this year.

Why an increase in business license fees? Aren’t some businesses already moving off the island? Business license fees have not increased in 20 years, and, even with this increase, they remain well below our closest neighbors and competitors. The hurricane hit us all, and the town works on behalf of all. With the lowest business license fees around, the effect on businesses who are not already considering a move should be equitable and minimal.

Likewise, our Fire Rescue services are exemplary, and an increase in Ambulance Services Fees keeps us in line or below comparable jurisdictions.

Wow! A 5 mil Special Assessment for five years? Look around. The recovery has been as good as it could possibly be. The town’s plans, contracts, and reserves were in place when they counted most. Our approximate $70 million in damages is nearly double that of the entire balance of Beaufort County. Timing for reimbursement from FEMA, the state, and the county is uncertain, while ultimately, a gap of about $15 million is likely. The property tax increase that we have prescribed allows our town to issue $18 million in bonds to replace the reserves immediately—so that we are again prepared for a storm, should it come soon—while paying for it over five years. The superb ratings we have from the nation’s three major bond rating agencies—Moody’s (Aaa), Standard & Poor’s (Aa+), and Fitch (AA=)—minimize our borrowing costs. Safe.

The production of this year’s budget was no easy task, and congratulations are due to our town manager, Steve Riley, our director of finance, John Troyer and to each and every department head and member who crunched together what could best be accomplished in the upcoming year. Continued town services, completion of capital projects already underway, replenishment of required reserves, and the conclusion of hurricane recovery efforts are remarkable achievements for an island marked a mere nine months ago by extraordinary damages. The numbers are a static representation of dynamic work accomplished by your town. The shared burden between increased millage, business license fees and charges for ambulance services, although not easy or welcome, combine to deliver to us a very sound, solid, safe, scrutinized and slender budget.

Hope to see you at First Tee on the Fourth of July for “One Island, One Community,” a free picnic to enjoy with your neighbors!


A Note from Lisa Sulka
Affordable Housing Program Assists Families in Need

The Affordable Housing Program is administered through the Growth Management Department and the Planning & Community Development Division with an approved budget by Town Council. This past fiscal year, (July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017), the program assisted 14 families. The assistance included a road repair to allow for the access of emergency vehicles (police, fire and emergency services (EMS), and a new road sign so that emergency vehicles and others could accurately locate the home. Other services included roof repairs, flooring, electrical repairs, septic tank pump outs, and window and wall repairs needed to keep the homes safe and dry. Approximately $80,000 of the budget was spent to assist families with housing needs and whose income qualified them for the program.

To qualify for assistance, applicants must have an income which does not exceed 60 percent of the area median income for Beaufort County. For example, a gross income of less than $40,260 for a family of four would qualify for this program.

After Hurricane Matthew landed in the Lowcountry, town staff assisted homeowners in need by helping them complete FEMA applications, coordinating transportation with Palmetto Breeze for homeowners to attend regional informational meetings for assistance in this program. They also were matchmakers for homeowners and contractors to provide for services, materials, and even temporary housing.

The program continues to evolve with an increased variety of specific programs and opportunities for assistance. The current program includes four categories: home repair and rehabilitation; affordable and workforce housing programs; property maintenance; and planning, education, and advocacy. There are opportunities and funding to continue to repair homes to keep them safe and dry, post addresses, fix streets, demolition and clean-up of unwanted structures, and septic tank pump outs and repairs. There are also incentives for developers to construct workforce and affordable housing. Information is now available on the town’s website on the specific programs, qualifications, and application procedures. The Affordable Housing Committee (AHC), town leaders and staff continue to look for ways to expand the program to meet the needs of the communities.

Recently, members of Town Council and town staff met with town staff and leaders from Davidson, North Carolina to discuss their programs and success stories. They shared their experiences, specific programs and partnerships, and showed us first-hand the finished products. Partnerships between other communities, with developers, and community organizations and leaders are important in building and strengthening a successful program.

Bluffton’s Affordable Housing Committee meets monthly to discuss current applications and the future of the program.

For more information on the AHC, please contact Brad Mole, community-business Development coordinator, at (843) 706-7818 or bmole@townofbluffton.com. 

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