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Kershaw County Council considers new budget

Posted: May 1, 2014 5:04 p.m.
Updated: May 2, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Users of Kershaw County’s recreation facilities and programs may soon have to pay more for the privilege if Kershaw County Council passes a proposed budget presented at a special workshop Tuesday evening. County Administrator Vic Carpenter said the proposed budget is balanced without a tax increase.

“What this includes is the complete proposed budget for the council. It includes the revenue, as predicted for the county and the county General Fund operating budget, as well,” Carpenter said. “It does not meet all of the stated goals of the council, but it’s a budget that can meet the needs of this county.”

As with any ordinance, council must pass three readings on the budget before being enacted. Modifications to the budget may be made up until the final vote. Carpenter said the proposed budget does not allow for additional personnel, as requested by some county departments, including the sheriff’s office, detention center and planning and zoning. It also does not include pay raises for county employees.

The budget proposes to increase fees by $8 for youth sports participants from $32 to $40, with a $325 team fee for adult basketball and softball. Rental charges for non-profits to use administrative office activity rooms would increase from $75 to $100 for a small room for four hours, with $10 charged for each additional hour. A large room would go from $75 to $100 for four hours, with $15 for each additional hour. The fee to rent both rooms would rise from $175 to $200 for four hours with $25 charged for each additional hour. For-profit businesses would be charged double the rate listed for non-profits for the same rooms.

The rate for open picnic shelters at Scott, Doby and Woodward parks would be $30 a day and the fee at Knight’s Hill Park, which has a kitchen, would be $80. All facility rentals would require a $75 refundable deposit.

Proposed fee increases for the county swimming pool would not take effect until 2015 if approved by council. A family season pass for up to five people would go from $115 to $125, with $5 for each additional family member. A family weekly pass for up to five people would be $65 with $5 for each additional member. A new couples pass would be set at $85, while an individual season pass would increase from $55 to $65. Individual daily admission would remain at $5.

Carpenter said parks and recreation expenses are increasing because maintenance and upkeep of the facilities has been budgeted under “building maintenance” for the past few years, but is being moved in the budgeted to be part of parks and recreation. He said the higher fees would net the county an additional approximately $35,000.

Another financial challenge for the county is keeping three school resource officers (SRO) whose work has been funded through a grant that expires July 1. Carpenter said the three officers, who are sheriff’s office deputies assigned to schools, would cost the county approximately $175,000 a year, including salaries, benefits, uniforms and equipment. That amount is not included in the budget presented to council. The budget also does not include expenses for two crossing guards. Councilman Jimmy Jones said the school resource officers play a vital role in securing the schools and should be kept in place, even if at the county’s expense.

“I’m going to go ahead and publicly state that I would like the three SROs that are no longer covered under the grant, along with those two part-time crossing guards to be put on the agenda or implemented into the budget for us to vote on,” Jones said.

Councilman Stephen Smoak said he is in favor of having a SRO at every school, but with a balanced budget before them, council would have to cut funding from somewhere else to pay for the officers.

“If you ask them (county staff) to do that, then he (Carpenter) is going to have to cut somewhere,” Smoak said.

Jones countered with a possible solution.

“I’m willing to put my hand up for a .8 of a mil tax increase to support this and I’m willing to state it publicly. If I stand for something, I’ll say it now in front of God, the media and all His people,” Jones said. “You will have the opportunity to vote against these school resource officers and these crossing guards if you so see fit.”

Fee increases have also been suggested for the Planning and Zoning Department.

“We’re trying to come up with a fee structure that would be comparable to other counties around us,” Carpenter said.

The proposal raises the fees charged for building permits, home inspections, home occupancy permits, cell phone towers and all other services the department provides. Duties that require more time and manpower would see the most increase, Carpenter said.

The budget is expected to be on the agenda for first reading at the council’s next regular meeting Tuesday, May 13.

Earlier in the meeting council, in response to a request from Jones, Bobby Bowers, director of the S.C. Budget and Control Board’s Office of Research, presented information on what council districts would look if there were seven, instead of six districts.

Many South Carolina county councils choose their chairmen from among their members. Kershaw County residents from across the county elect the council chairman as an “at large” seat, meaning the chairman does not represent any one particular district. Jones previously asked how a seven-district county map would appear, with each district electing a councilman and the council electing its chairman.

“This has seven, single-member districts,” Bowers said, pointing to a proposed map based on the county’s population distribution in the 2010 Census. “Now you realize that to change this, you would have to pass a resolution calling for a referendum or 15 percent of the registered voters (would) have to sign a petition. The census has every man, woman and child as of April 1, 2010. Even if you looked at this in 2019, you’d still be using the 2010 census numbers.”

Bowers said the Home Rule Act of 1975 requires districts to be divided into essentially similar populations and racial makeup and the map he presented reflected that.

“The total deviation has to be less than 10 percent,” he said. “We use a term called constituency consistency. It means each of you has some expectation of consistency in who you represent and your constituents have some expectations of who represents them.”

Bowers said if voters approved the referendum, redistricting would not take effect until 2018, as the chairman position and three council seats are on the ballot this year and all serve four-year terms. Chairman Gene Wise and Smoak, from District 5, are not seeking re-election, and Jones is running unopposed.

Wise said he is against changing the districts and the way the chairman is chosen because having the chairman elected by the council carries a potential for corruption.

“I think we’re structurally putting something into place which could end up being unethical by a structural standpoint. I’m speaking against this proposal, not because of race, (but) because I don’t think it’s ethical,” Wise said. “In a state that doesn’t have a lot of ethical rules and the ethical rules they have, they don’t enforce.”

Jones reconsidered the matter after hearing what Wise had to say.

“Amen, Mr. Chairman. Well put. Sometimes my chairman really surprises me. I love it,” Jones said. “What I was interested in was exploring and seeing what this would look like, what would it be. We are one of two or three counties, maybe four at the most that do chairman at large. Obviously the system works well for us here, no question about it. But I was interested in seeing it. I think the chairman makes a valid point.”

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