Infrastructure projects included in Mount Pleasant's proposed budget

Mount Pleasant's proposed budget for 2014-2015 includes property tax and fee increases to help pay for a backlog of infrastructure projects including:

A half-dozen major stormwater drainage projects,

various road pavement preservation projects,

a new town hall and gym,

design plans for phase two of Memorial Waterfront Park,

restrooms at the Farmers Market pavilion,

an additional lane on Longpoint Road leading to westbound I-526 where traffic backs up at peak hours,

extension of Sweetgrass Basket Parkway, and

a new left turn lane at Bessemer Road on Park West Boulevard.

MOUNT PLEASANT - Town Council members got their first look Wednesday at the booming community's proposed $87.9 million budget for next year, which includes already approved property tax and fee increases to pay for a host of infrastructure projects.

The proposal marks a roughly 1 percent increase over the town's current total budget and includes new revenue from the area's growth along with a property tax increase - the first in more than two decades - that adds $36 to the annual bill on a $300,000 home.

In recent weeks, the council also agreed to raise stormwater utility fees, planning fees, building permit fees and business licenses to pay for a backlog of road and drainage work.

"The economy is growing here, the quality of life, community services, those kinds of things are all helping our assessed values and revenues for the coming year," said Charles Potts, the town's chief financial officer. "We continue to recover from the Great Recession."

Town officials said they have heard few complaints about the tax and fee increases, likely because residents know where the money is going.

"This council was clear that they want all fees we are raising to go to infrastructure," said Administrator Eric DeMoura, who presented the proposed 2014-2015 budget. Council members will review it in detail at committee meetings May 5.

Councilman Mark Smith, who was the lone vote against all tax and fee increases, said he is "looking forward to diving deep into the minutia."

The increases will pay for one of the town's largest outlays ever for capital projects, including: widespread stormwater drainage work, road pavement repairs around the town, several road improvements and lane additions, a new town hall and gym, new Farmers Market pavilion restrooms and other projects. The total capital budget reaches almost $52.7 million.

The town's 530 full-time employees also could receive raises of 3 percent to 3.5 percent if they qualify based on performance. Employees weathered two years of flat salaries and a third with only a holiday bonus during the recession, Potts said.

The proposed budget also includes a $600,000 boost to the town's fire department, mostly to hire 12 new full-time firefighters to staff a new station at Carolina Park set to open in July 2015.

Four more new employees also would join the town's ranks, including two to run the capital improvement projects.

The town expects to receive about $4.4 million more in property and other taxes, fees and various other revenue, from a total $66.5 million this year to nearly $71 million.

While Smith said the town must preserve its infrastructure and quality of life, people have thanked him for voting against the tax and fee increases. Mount Pleasant is enjoying growth and low unemployment, but some residents struggle.

"Significant amounts of people in our community are still hurting," Smith said. "We represent all members of the community, and not all of the community is thriving. A portion of those folks still have to make hard choices."

No residents spoke in favor or against the budget proposal.

Complaints have been minimal perhaps because the town hasn't raised property taxes in nearly 23 years. In 2011, it even decreased them. And the last business license increase was 12 years ago, Potts said.

Mayor Linda Page said last month that she not only supported the tax increase, she wished it were a little more. Yet, the new budget makes clear the town's commitment to capital improvements, she said.

"This budget will allow us to provide tangible proof that Mount Pleasant is taking care of business," Page said.

Now officials must show residents and business owners their higher taxes and fees are going to capital projects.

"It has been so very long and is so sorely needed. You add those things together and people aren't thrilled with it - but they are okay with it," Potts said. "I think it is good stuff."

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.