By Stefanie Jackson – The Cape Charles Town Council has passed the town’s fiscal year 2023 budget, including a general fund of more than $4 million, in a unanimous vote June 16.
Last year, the Town Council added three new categories for revenues and expenditures, creating more transparency and accountability in the budget and bringing the town’s total number of accounting funds to seven.
In addition to the general fund of $4 million, the balanced budget includes the following funds and their approximate totals for FY 2023: public utilities, $2.6 million; capital projects, $2 million; harbor, $1.2 million; special activities, $900,000; sanitation, $440,000; and general debt service, $250,000.
The Town Council also passed a resolution authorizing the town manager to manage the budget funds once a budget has been passed and the funds have been appropriated.
Due to dramatically rising property reassessments, the Town Council has responded by lowering property tax rates to help offset the increased costs to taxpayers.
Cape Charles’ real estate tax rate has been lowered nearly 10 cents for a total charge of $0.2159 per $100 of assessed value.
Cape Charles’ property tax rate has been cut by 50% for a total charge of $1 per $100 of assessed value.
The only service provided by the town with a price increase is trash collection, which has risen $1.60 for a total monthly fee of $18.28.
Even though Cape Charles indisputably does more tourist business than any other incorporated town in Northampton County – the only one with a public beach – less than one-third of Cape Charles’ general fund revenues are tourism-related taxes, according to Town Manager John Hozey.
The general fund is supported 44% by real estate taxes, 18% by meals taxes, 13% by transient occupancy taxes, and 3% by personal property taxes.
Four construction projects have been identified as top priorities for spending capital funds in FY 2023:
- Cape Charles’ Community Trail, Phase III, south of Peach Street
- Design and engineering for a new town hall and upgrades to the library
- A new public restroom in a permanent structure to be built on south Mason Avenue and renovation of the public restroom at the beach
- A family games area in Central Park
During the public comment period, the Town Council heard one objection to building a new town hall, from Cape Charles citizen Loraine Huchler.
“A new town hall project is pure expense; it doesn’t generate revenues or attract visitors or improve the quality of life for residents … and I don’t think it’s in the best interests of stakeholders,” Huchler said of the estimated $4.5 million project.
She was concerned that the Town Council was considering expanding the existing contract for the early stages of the town hall project to include architectural engineering and bidding services.
“I was surprised that the town wasn’t going to have a competitive bid for that large of a contract … to receive the best value,” Huchler said.
She raised further concern over the town’s wastewater treatment system and “the risk of partially treated sewage being discharged into the bay due to the continued failures of the membranes at the wastewater plant.”
Huchler was referring to components of the plant’s “membrane bioreactor,” a term for technology that treats wastewater through a combination of microfiltration and bacteria that break down harmful substances into nontoxic compounds before releasing the treated water into a water body, in this case, the Chesapeake Bay.
She recalled a discussion from the May 26 Town Council meeting about the severe deterioration of some of the wastewater treatment membranes and suggested replacing them.
Not addressing the issue will increase the risk of releasing toxic substances into the bay and receiving environmental health violations.
Huchler told the Town Council, “I believe that this has broad interest by stakeholders, not to pollute the bay and risk the tourism and the beach.”