Council Trims Budget

BLYTHEWOOD – Town Council (minus Mayor J. Michael Ross, who is golfing this week in Scotland) and Town Administrator Jim Meggs spent the better part of a four-hour budget workshop on Tuesday morning trying to stretch the Town’s actual revenue to cover its proposed expenses.

Councilman Bob Massa, who chaired the meeting in the Mayor’s absence, said the preliminary look at the FY2014-15 budget shows total revenue at $1,208,000, down from $1,210,000 last year and total expenditures at $1,416,288, up from $1,210,000 last year. Massa said the proposed revenue will catch up somewhat before the next workshop in June as the franchise fees come in.

The biggest cuts are suggested in proposed special initiative expenses in the general fund as well as the hospitality tax revenue fund. It was generally agreed at the meeting to cut about $300,000 from the $468,000 proposed for 10 or so special initiatives in the general fund. These items include many of former Town Administrator John Perry’s pet initiatives, including plug-in stations for eCars, additional eCar work vehicles for the Town, right-of-way purchases on McNulty Road to accommodate road widening and streetscaping, as well as the complete street plans. Cutbacks are also expected to several special initiatives currently paid for with hospitality tax revenues, such as the rental and other costs for The Visitor Center and Blythewood Artists’ Guild, certain events and the baseball tournament. At the same time, Massa and Councilman Bob Mangone suggested spending money on a billboard on I-77 to promote the Blythewood Artists Guild’s individual businesses and $8,000 for a part-time secretary for the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce. While the Town spent $34,258.22 last year on Perry’s “Special Initiative 3B,” no one on Council has so far determined exactly what that and several other similarly named special initiatives are. Massa said the Council should take a closer look at all these items before the next budget workshop on June 13.

While the Town spent about $85,000 on mowing for the park and the new interstate landscaping last year, it plans to spend $95,000 this year; but that figure will also include the proposed $20,000 for new Christmas lights. Mangone criticized the lack of mowing and maintenance being provided for the new landscaping at the I-77 interchange and the median plantings at the Fairfield County line. Councilman Tom Utroska had mentioned prior to the meeting that the previous Council apparently did not provide for the costs of maintaining the considerable landscaping that was planted.

A large chunk of the morning’s discussion focused on the Town’s hospitality and accommodation tax revenues and expenses. Massa pointed out that while the revenue is healthy, it is being stretched thin to pay for the park.

“Almost 90 percent ($353,276) of the Town’s almost $400,000 annual hospitality tax revenue goes to make annual payments to the Blythewood Facilities Park for the $5.5 million park bond,” Massa told The Voice after the meeting. “That means that we are going to have to cut back on some of our traditional requests from community organizations for hospitality funds.”

The hospitality revenue for the coming year (proposed at $270,000) is expected to be considerably less than the $287,000 budgeted for last year. That reduction is largely due, Massa said, to the decreased of tax revenue resulting from the renovation of the Bojangle’s Restaurant.

“Anything over $270,000 this year will be a godsend,” Massa said.

The state and local accommodations tax revenue is expected to be about $128,000 next fiscal year, down from the $157,000 expected in the current year’s budget, but up from this year’s actual intake of $95,000. The total hospitality and accommodations tax revenues are expected to be a little less than $400,000.

Total proposed salary and benefits/expenses for Mayor Ross is $23,876, up from the $16,666.59 actually spent in FY2013-14. Total proposed (combined) salaries and benefits/expenses for Council is $22,177, up from $17,785.27 actually spent last fiscal year. Total staff salaries and benefits/expenses for FY2014-15 is $293,523, down from $379,549 actually spent last fiscal year.

Council is expected to hold first reading on the budget at the May 27 meeting. It will continue to work on the budget at a second workshop to be held on June 13.

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