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County council starts budget process

Posted: March 20, 2014 4:51 p.m.
Updated: March 21, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Kershaw County Council took the first step toward working out the county’s fiscal year 2014-2015 budget with a special workshop meeting Tuesday. County Administrator Vic Carpenter said the meeting was to present a basic overview of the budget, and that council has more meetings planned to discuss more specific budget matters. The proposed budget does not call for a tax increase and Carpenter said only a few fees will go up.

“We have some issues about it (that) we need to be discussing as the season goes on,” Carpenter said. “It’s a status quo budget where we will be able to do everything we were doing last year.”

One priority topic Carpenter brought up is keeping resource officers in the county schools. A grant that funded three officers is set to expire in July and council agreed they would like to find a way to keep the officers on the job.

“I want to see the funding for resource officers taken from the sheriff’s budget, put under the school and let the school administer the funds,” Councilman Jimmie Jones said. “We need to make sure we protect those schools and that those officers stay in those schools.”

Another issue is how much of the county’s billed tax revenue is actually collected. Carpenter said the county collected roughly 93 percent of the taxes owed last year. He said the state average is 95 percent.

“We’ve got a gap of 2 percent. What’s our plan to close the gap and how many dollars does that amount to?” Chairman Gene Wise asked.

Carpenter said the 2 percent equates to approximately $160,000. He said one reason Kershaw County is below the state average in taxes is that mobile homes and the land where they sit are billed separately. Mobile homes are not considered “real property” and are, therefore, not subject to tax liens if taxes go unpaid. Other counties assess the property and the mobile home together, requiring the owner to pay the full amount.

Council also discussed raising the solid waste disposal fee from its current $55 per year. Carpenter said the fee does not cover expenses to operate the county’s recycling centers, forcing a dip into the general fund to make up the annual difference of $600,000.

“That $55 fee has hit people hard. I know because I’ve heard from them,” Jones said.

Carpenter said the annual fee would have to be $80 to fully cover the expenses, but council agreed such a drastic jump would hurt county homeowners even more and perhaps a small increase could be in order for the new budget.

Council also discussed the planning and zoning department, which lost a position in last year’s budget. Carpenter said that has caused the potential to form a backlog of permit applications, especially as construction in the county is expected to increase.

“It’s starting to create some issues with us keeping up with our permits. We’re starting to fall a little bit behind now,” he said. “The growth that’s coming in now is beginning to create some issues keeping up with our permits. There are about five subdivisions that are looking to add anywhere from 50 to 80 houses.”

Carpenter also said staffing at the Kershaw County Detention Center is at a bare-bones minimum, which creates personnel shortages when officers are out sick or on vacation.

“What happens when an inmate takes advantage of that? The number of counties that have had an inmate death this year is staggering. We have not ... (and) we want to remain in that category,” Carpenter said. “The job we’re doing is exceptional, but we’re doing it with a very thin staff that is overworked.”

Some of the other matters council discussed Tuesday included more security at the county courthouse, a solicitors office request for more funds to help ease a backlog of cases, and an issue of using public defenders to represent defendants in magistrate court.

Council’s next regular meeting is Tuesday; another budget workshop session is slated for April 1.

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