Wildwood commissioners adopted a $48.29-million budget Monday night for the 2020-21 fiscal year that holds the line on property taxes.
The budget was approved without controversy, but 2 to 3 percent increases in sewer, water and garbage collection rates sparked opposition.
The property tax rate of $3.398 per $1,000 assessed valuation is the same as last year’s rate and below the rolled-back rate of $3.407. The rolled-back rate is the amount needed to collect the same revenue as the prior year not including new construction.
Booming residential and commercial construction, especially in the Villages of Southern Oaks, generated a surge in property tax revenue. The city’s population is up 37 percent to 17,354 since a year ago, according to the latest estimates. Last year, the city had 12,665 residents. Over the past decade, Wildwood’s population has nearly tripled.
Water bills will go up 2.9 percent.
City Manager Jason McHugh said bills for the average single-family household range from $50 to $75 a month. On a bill of $50, the increase would add $1.45.
Commercial water rates will go up from $2.29 to $2.86 per 1,000 gallons while sewer rates, also up 2.9 percent, will be $4.67 in the city and $5.84 outside the city per 1,000 gallons.
Garbage collection fees will rise about 2 percent or 28 cents for one cart to $18.30. Reclaimed water rates also are up 2.9 percent.
Waste Management also is ending recycling in Wildwood and converting to waste to energy where all garbage is burned at high temperatures.
Several speakers asked commissioners to reconsider the rate hikes and Commissioner Joe Elliott suggested a moratorium on the increases until the COVID-19 crisis passes.
“This may be the time to back off and delay this,” the Village of Fenney resident said.
But Mayor Ed Wolf said Wildwood should proceed with the increases.
“We made the decisions with the heart for many years and discovered we were really digging a hole,” he said, adding that people can get help paying utility bills through Sumter County with federal CARES Act funding.
The rate hikes were approved on a 3-1 vote with Elliott opposed.
Resident Ivory Gray said families can’t afford the hikes because some have lost jobs or had family members with COVID-19 during the pandemic.
“People don’t really have the money to so easily give it over,” she said.
The Rev. James Rockey, pastor of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Oxford, said his church has been called upon to provide more help to needy families during the pandemic.
“Truly, there are families right now that one more thing would push them over the edge,” he said.
In the budget, nine positions will be added to the city payroll including two police officers, a security systems specialist, two utility employees, two public works employees, one finance employee and one parks employee.
A $2.5-million renovation of the former North Sumter Primary School is among the major capital projects. The school will be converted into a Municipal Services Complex to house administrative offices for the utility department. The site also will include a 2,500-square-foot storage barn and a fueling station.
Other projects are $3 million in improvements to Millennium Park west of Powell Road, completion of upgrades at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on the west side and decommissioning of the Continental Country Club waste water treatment plan, which the city acquired a couple years ago.
Wildwood’s strategic plan approved earlier this month includes preparing a downtown master plan, installing bathrooms at the Baker House and Lake Deaton Park, buying five generators for emergencies and increasing capacity for on-site fuel storage. It also calls for organizing 20 new parks and recreation programs for a variety of age groups.