If there was one takeaway from the Brunswick City Commission’s 2018-2019 budget workshops Monday and Wednesday, it’s that commissioners are prepared to borrow $5.2 million to build the Oglethorpe Conference Center.
The center, which has been planned since 2001, is expected to cost around $8.1 million to build on Newcastle Street in downtown Brunswick. Currently, there is about $3 million available in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax IV and V allotted for the project. The remainder, according to a draft budget reviewed this week, would come through financing, although officials have yet to say whether the funding mechanism would be a long-term loan, a bond issuance, or some other form.
Mayor Cornell Harvey again Wednesday pledged not to raise the city’s millage rate to pay for the debt. The proposed budget sets aside $600,985 for debt service payments this fiscal year, although half of that is set-aside money to cover the covenant of a potential bond — much like renters have to pay first and last month’s rent when moving into a new home.
The proposed budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, anticipates general fund expenses and revenues to be balanced at $22,119,344. That’s an increase of nearly 40 percent over last year’s general fund revenue, largely because the $5.2 million in conference center borrowing. Commissioners are also proposing borrowing an additional $1 million for the closure of a landfill on T Street. That brings the total borrowed amount to $6.2 million, or 28 percent of the city’s total revenue for the fiscal year.
Other funds besides the general fund account for an additional $24,345,565 in expenses and revenues. The funds outside of the general include SPLOSTs, sanitation, community development, state Department of Transportation and hotel-motel taxes, among others.
New in this year’s proposed budget is the creation of a stormwater utility. The utility, if adopted by the commission later this month, would assess a fee for every residential and commercial building in city limits to help pay for stormwater infrastructure and other costs. If adopted, the utility is projected to raise at least $660,000 this year, according to the proposed budget. Homeowners would see a new fee assessed ranging between $36 and $72 annually, depending on the rate set by commissioners, if the measure is passed.
The city expects to collect $4.6 million for SPLOST 2016 this fiscal year. SPLOST 2016 is a special fund, and not part of the $22 million general fund.
Big winners in the proposed SPLOST 2016 spending include the fire and police departments, street and sidewalk infrastructure, the College Park drainage project and parks.
The fire department will receive two new pump trucks and a rescue vehicle, while the police department will receive nine new patrol vehicles.
There is $3.3 million set aside for sidewalk and road infrastructure, including $2.5 million for street paving and the L Street repair project. $350,000 is set aside for sidewalk improvement, including trails.
The College Park drainage project is allotted $2.6 million in the budget, which will go toward solving flash flooding in the north Brunswick neighborhood.
Parks didn’t fare too badly, either. About $1.9 million is set aside for improvements to Overlook, Sidney Lanier and Mary Ross parks. Bathrooms are set to be installed at Overlook and Sidney Lanier, while new playground equipment is slated for Howard Coffin Park. Mary Ross Park will receive $551,000 for improvements being overseen by the Brunswick Urban Redevelopment Agency.
All employees citywide will receive a 3 percent pay raise if the budget passes in its current form. In addition to that, public safety employees — police and firefighters — will receive additional pay raises ranging from 1.5 percent to 3 percent.
While there were overages in various department’s payroll this past fiscal year, most of that was related to hurricane duty. The city did manage to save nearly $46,000 by bringing its tax collection in house. Previously, the city paid the Glynn County Tax Collector $115,000 for tax collection. This year, under the in-house tax collector, that’s expected to cost about $69,000.
The City Commission will hear public comments on the budget at 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 20, at Old City Hall, 1229 Newcastle St., Brunswick. It is slated for a vote at a 5 p.m. meeting June 27 also at Old City Hall.
The public can review the budget by visiting City Hall at 601 Gloucester St., Brunswick, or online at www.brunswickga.org/sg_userfiles/probudget18-19-complete.pdf.