OAK ISLAND, NC (WECT) – As town leaders in Oak Island put another budget together, residents are hearing a familiar story: sewer district fees are on the rise again.
Oak Island has been dealing with budget problems for more than a decade.
A sewer system project started in 2004 ran about $100 million over budget. Originally, council had estimated the cost of the project to be $42 million. In the end, the project's final cost was over $140 million leaving the town in a massive debt.
Now, residents have to foot the bill to pay the town's bond debt which has many people thinking of moving away.
Town leaders say the previous council is to blame, who was investigated and eventually cleared by the SBI for mismanaging town money.
Councilman Jeff Winecoff says it's a work in progress.
"When we came in, we inherited all this," said Winecoff. "So, we've been trying to deal with this the best we can."
The town needs to have the sewer district fee in place by the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.
Last year, the sewer district fee doubled to $576 annually for property owners of developed and undeveloped parcels and the base fee increased by $5 a month.
The $5 charge increased the base fee to $55.94 a month for each homeowner. Plus, they're charged for any additional use.
Residents like Larry Anderson are second guessing their decision to move to the island.
"They're very high here," said Anderson. "Probably double the amount of any place I've ever been."
Those fees are expected to go up again this year. Town leaders say they have to generate money to pay off their debt.
Sonny Armistead has owned his vacation home on the island for six years. He's thinking about moving if the fees keep increasing.
"I don't agree with it," said Armistead. "I may consider selling. I thought about retiring here, but this is just ridiculous."
Town leaders aren't sure how much the fees will increase. Mayor Betty Wallace says residents should expect "significant increases this year."
Additionally, town leaders say they don't expect any cuts to services with this year's budget. The town also plans to put aside money for capital improvement projects.
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