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Without PD, Bethune has $30,000 surplus

Posted: July 3, 2013 5:11 p.m.
Updated: July 5, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Now that the town of Bethune no longer has a police department to fund, it will have a $29,557 surplus on hand for the 2014 fiscal year that started July 1. Bethune Town Council passed third and final reading of the budget at a special June 27 meeting.

According to budget documents obtained by the Chronicle-Independent through a S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, disbanding the police department and no longer having to pay a judge to hear Bethune cases removed $64,079 from the expense side of the FY 2014 budget, compared to FY 2013.

Also slightly lower -- by only $166 -- is the town’s administrative fund. That fund includes a salary line of $33,636, nearly $9,000 lower than in FY 2013 when it was $42,374.

Some of the $64,000 savings is being put toward the town’s street fund, increasing it from $18,290 in FY 2013 to $20,500 in FY 2014. While landscaping expenses will stay the same at $15,700, the town is doubling its budget for supplies from $500 to $1,000 and increasing its Christmas decorations line item from $350 to $2,000.

With the nearly $30,000 surplus, that still leaves a nearly $32,500 reduction in expenses for the new fiscal year.

On the revenue side, the balanced budget projects a complete loss of fines and forfeitures totaling $24,000 for FY 2013. It was unclear at press time whether those fines and forfeitures were collected by the police department.

Among other reductions shown in the new budget are a $9,000 reduction in the amount of insurance fees collected through the Municipal Association of South Carolina, a $1,000 reduction in franchise fees and a $2,500 reduction in miscellaneous/donations. The FY 2013 budget showed miscellaneous/donations at $3,000, but the new budget projects revenues in that category of only $500. Such donations were budgeted at $6,000 in FY 2012.

While there were other, smaller reductions compared to the FY 2013 budget, the FY 2014 budget also shows a $3,600 increase in lease agreements. The FY 2013 budget projected only $540 in lease agreement revenue compared to $4,140 for FY 2014. However, two fiscal years ago -- in FY 2012 -- such collections were projected to be at $6,700.

During council’s June 13 regular meeting, Bethune Mayor Carlisle Davis stated that the town has more than “$400,000 in the bank.” None of the budgets provided to the C-I reflect the balances of any bank accounts.

Each year, the town also passes a water fund budget. The town is projecting that water collections will come up to $60,000 during the new fiscal year, an increase from $57,900 in FY 2013. It also expects to collect $950 in new meter fees compared to only $475 in FY 2013. Interest income, however, is expected to be cut in half, from a projected $3,000 in FY 2013 to only $1,500 in FY 2014.

There are only slight changes from FY 2013 to FY 2014 in water fund expenses, balancing the $62,950 water fund budget.

During the June 13 meeting, Davis said that the FY 2014 budget had been on file during the previous week for public review. The town did run a legal notice in the C-I May 24 alerting citizens that the budget would be considered at the June 13 meeting, that the budget would be on display June 3-7 at town hall, and of the projected revenues and expenditures for both the general and water fund budgets. It also showed that its estimated millage for the year would be zero.

As part of its FOIA request, the C-I also asked for copies of town council minutes dating back three years. During the June 13 meeting, resident Herman Newman asked council when it discussed the possibility of disbanding the police department. Davis said that it was discussed several times, but Newman said he had examined the minutes and could not find where that had happened.

The C-I’s examination of those minutes also brings into question when council discussed disbanding the police department. Council decided to disband the department in March. According to the minutes of that month’s meeting, “(Councilman) Jimmy Steen made a motion, due to cost, to dissolve the Bethune Police Department upon help with patrolling from the Kershaw County Sheriff’s (Office). This motion was second(ed) by (Councilwoman) Beverly Farmer and carried unanimously.”

There is no other direct reference in any minutes to disbanding the department.

However, minutes from council’s January 10 meeting show that Davis motioned to go into executive session to discuss contractual matters. The minutes do not reflect what the contractual matters concerned, so it is unknown if this had to do with the police department.

The S.C. Press Association’s interpretation of the S.C. FOIA is that governing bodies should state the specific reason for going into executive session rather than a broad statement that it is doing so to discuss a contractual, personnel or legal matter. For example, a council should state that it is going into executive session “to discuss contractual arrangements for a landfill.”

During council’s Sept. 13, 2012, meeting, one part of the minutes reflect that “several items were discussed, but no action taken.” This type of activity was also listed in the minutes of the July 12, 2012, meeting. The S.C. FOIA states that minutes should include, “the substance of all matters proposed, discussed or decided and, at the request of any such member, a record, by an individual member, of any votes taken.”

S.C. Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers said that, despite that language, the law is vague when it comes to how detailed meeting minutes should be.

Aug. 9, 2012, appears to be the last previous time the police department is mentioned in open session. During that meeting, former Bethune Police Capt. Brandon Brown reported that a new computer system had been installed at the police department at no cost to the town. Brown said the town had enrolled in the “1033 Military Surplus Purchase Program,” entitling the department to obtain such items as body armor, night vision equipment, weapons and vehicles.

The C-I attempted to contact Mayor Davis several times during the past several weeks in order to ask additional questions -- including what council plans to do with the $30,000 surplus -- and to offer him the opportunity to comment. He did not return those phone calls, and the C-I was notified Tuesday that he is on vacation this week.

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