A Word From Our Mayors
Author: Drew Laughlin & Lisa Sulka | Photographer: Photography by Anne
Our Financial Plan for the Year Ahead
A Hilton Head Island home valued at $350,000 will pay about $300 in town taxes this coming year. By contrast, U.S. families pay an average of $1,668 a year for cell phones. We’d like to think that what you get for your town tax dollars compares quite favorably with the benefits of cell phones. Thanks to the efforts of all town council members, the town manager and his staff, we finalized a fiscal year 2014/2015 budget in June that is geared toward public safety, recreation, and capital project initiatives that benefit residents. We publicly discussed the budget over seven meetings and were happy to hear from residents who spoke at some of these meetings. Their comments were constructive and well-received by council. The budget presents a balanced but optimistic approach as the town’s economy is following or exceeding the national upward trend. The fiscal year 2015 budget ensures our continued long-term financial stability, enabling us to continue to meet customer needs, responsively and responsibly, well into the future.
Our fiscal budget is $70.6 million. The General Fund budget maintains the current level of high quality service. Overall, General Fund expenditures are programmed at $37.6 million for fiscal year 2015 compared to $35.3 million last fiscal year—an increase of $2,275,935 or 6.4 percent. The town’s primary programmatic increases are an increase in funding of $284,968 for the Hilton Head Island Economic Development Corporation under town-wide grants; a $1,133,856 increase for Fire and Rescue of which $765,000 is in capital outlay for replacement of self-contained breathing apparatus for Fire Rescue personnel; a $339,536 increase in Public Projects and Facilities primarily related to repair and replacement of facilities (pathway projects, demolition, beach park improvements, etc.); and a $475,450 increase in the Engineering Division, mostly due to road maintenance (Indigo Run Drive and Lemoyne Avenue resurfacing).
I want to stress that actual revenues collected for fiscal year 1994 compared to the fiscal year 2015 budget shows how far we have come in reducing reliance on property taxes to fund our operations—from 67 percent in fiscal year 1994 to 31 percent in fiscal year 2015.
We developed our budget with the view of an improving island economy, which continues to recover from the economic recession. The town is experiencing slightly higher revenues in most revenue sources, and we have a budget that reflects town council’s adopted strategic plan. Over the last several years, we reduced personnel expenditures by eliminating 16 positions and with additional decreased costs related to turnover.
Tourism on the island continues its recovery, and the amenities we provide to residents and visitors continue to expand. As a result, our budget addresses the need to maintain our facilities and services reflecting the expectations of residents and visitors.
I Want You!
This month, CB2 magazine asked that I pose as “Uncle Sam” for the front cover—definitely out of my comfort zone, but a very fun time overall. It also made me think about what to write about this month. “I Want You” is the theme of the front cover, and I will continue it: I want you to recognize the many giving residents in Bluffton. I want you to see how you can help with our charitable foundations or get involved in one of the many other efforts from our citizens. I want you to be proud of where you live and happy for the many people in our town who benefit from these foundations.
Recently two foundations held events to raise money for our needy. Both the Berkeley Hall Charity Cup and the Lowcountry Foundation for Wounded Military Heroes hosted their fourth events and continue to see an increase in donations and funds coming in for their charities. This year, they both saw a record high in dollars donated back to very worthwhile non-profits.
As the founders of the Charity Cup (“The Charity Event with a Heart”) so eloquently put it, “Our little seed has really grown and flourished.” A few of the benefits to the non-profits they support are: a recording studio at the Boys & Girls Club; frozen food in a brand new refrigerator at Bluffton Self Help; a playground ‘floor’ at CODA; funding for sailors to fly home for family emergencies; more people learning to read and become self-sufficient; children learning in after school programs; and much more. Since inception in 2008, they have raised more than $650,000 and are headed to a goal of $1 million. This is money raised from an event that is held every two years.
The second foundation, which holds the annual Wounded Heroes Golf Classic at Hampton Hall, is run by a handful of volunteers with a passion for giving back to our military, especially wounded veterans. Every year, this group has increased awareness and donations that go back to three chosen charities: The Military Warriors Support Foundation, Operation Homefront and The Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Since its inception four years ago, the organization has raised over $300,000 in funds that go directly to our men and women in uniform. As organizers of this event say: “It’s impossible to adequately repay the service of veterans who return from war zones bearing the most profound of injuries. As a humble token of our gratitude, the annual Wounded Heroes Golf Classic offers these brave men and women a day of fun-filled brotherhood.
I’m frequently asked, “What is the best part of being mayor?” These foundations are two prime examples of how I would answer this question. Let’s all get involved in some way. It only makes our town better, and you will feel even better by paying it forward.