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KCC approves 2 percent raise for employees

Posted: June 26, 2014 4:38 p.m.
Updated: June 27, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Calling it “a good night for Kershaw County citizens,” County Councilman Jimmy Jones successfully introduced several new amendments, including a 2 percent pay raise for county employees, to the Fiscal Year 2015 budget at council’s meeting Tuesday. Council passed third and final reading of the budget at its June 17 meeting, but several members made a request to reconsider the budget Tuesday night.

Jones said the money needed to fund the amendments should come from the county’s $9.5 million reserve fund. Chairman Gene Wise spoke in favor of using the reserve money rather than raising the tax rate.

“If you look at 2013, we came under budget by $1.7 million. In the business world that would be profit. With profits you give employees raises, you give money back to shareholders and do preventive maintenance,” Wise said. “But, in our case, in the government world, that goes to reserves. That was two years ago and we have increased our reserves significantly.”

Wise said the reserve fund is healthy enough to stand a withdrawal to fund the county’s necessities and he is confident the reserves will continue to grow.

“We have a county administrator who has a 20-year record of never missing a budget. So, the risk is minimum,” he said. “You’re hung up on an accounting rule that states, ‘we don’t want to take it out of reserves.’ Well, how big are these reserves going to get?”

Councilman Stephen Smoak opposed using reserve money to pay for recurring costs, as he did at council’s last meeting.

“What we just heard was a fancy way of saying let’s kick this can down the road. Let’s let another council who has the courage or will to do something that will be a long-term solution to these issues, let’s let them deal with it later,” Smoak said.

Jones countered that using the reserve funds is “living within our means,” without raising taxes.

“You’ve got to think outside the box. You’ve got to look for other alternatives rather than tax and spend,” he said.

Jones first motion for the employee pay raise passed 4-3 with Jones, Wise and councilmen Willie Mickle and C.R. Miles Jr. approving and Smoak and councilmen Sammie Tucker Jr. and Tom Gardner voting no. The split vote set the tone for other amendments from Jones, including providing $40,000 to the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, $50,000 for the Public Defender Office, and $40,000 for the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office to hire an additional narcotics agent. All these items will be paid for with reserve funds.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews said the funds for the narcotics officer will help keep drug activity, and other related crimes, in check in the county. He also said the 2 percent pay raise will help in hiring and keeping deputies. Council approved funds June 17 to eliminate the practice of “Chinese overtime” for the sheriff’s office. Under that system, a deputy’s overtime pay actually drops the more hours they work. The new funds will have deputies receiving time-and-a-half pay for overtime.

 “Having an additional narcotics officer will be very beneficial to handle the meth problem and heroin problem. We want to stay on top of it before it causes an even more negative impact,” Matthews said. “This pay raise will be beneficial in our recruitment for officers. This will be a very positive step for us to keep what we’ve got and recruit quality officers.”

A motion to use $27,000 to hire a part-time librarian to staff a new branch library to be built near North Central High School failed 3-4, with Miles joining Smoak, Tucker and Gardner in voting no.

Jones’ made a motion to give $200,000 from reserves to the Kershaw County Humane Society, an amount that will be matched by Columbia philanthropist Austin Myers. Smoak seconded the motion, saying he supports using reserve funds to pay for one-time expenses.

“This is a horse of a different color in the use of your reserve funds. I will support it,” he said before council passed the motion unanimously.

Council then unanimously re-approved the budget with the amendments. Tucker then made a motion to invest $61,811 to build the proposed North Central library branch. The item was unanimously approved separately from the budget discussion, because the money will come from the current budget, not the one that goes into effect July 1.

Council, however, turned down a request from the Kershaw County School District for a 4.1-mil tax increase to fund elementary school arts, music and physical education programs, middle school elective courses and stipend payments for athletic coaches. The request did not even reach a vote, as no councilman made a motion to approve it.

In other business, council passed first reading of an ordinance to regulate the discharge of firearms in the county. County Attorney Ken DuBose said the ordinance was patterned after one in Richland County, adding a provision that discharging a firearm would still be legal if done in defense of life or property. The ordinance says shooting guns with 300 yards of a school, church, dwelling or business would be prohibited.

“In other words, you can’t just take shooting practice in your back yard,” DuBose said.

Jones said he received many complaints about gunshots in the county and he supports the ordinance and it would not restrict anyone’s right to legally own or carry a gun.

“This is being responsible. Anybody who doesn’t support this and they think we’re violating their Second Amendment rights needs to go back home into their bunker where they came from,” he said.

Matthews told council he presently has no law to enforce, and said the proposed ordinance would give his deputies a tool to work with.

“We routinely receive calls from citizens who live in unincorporated areas of Kershaw County who complain about people shooting guns near their homes. With existing laws there’s really nothing we can do to prevent this from happening,” Matthews said. “This new ordinance would give law enforcement something to work with.”

If the ordinance passes, violations would be classified as misdemeanors. DuBose said he would add increased penalties for repeat offenders at Smoak’s request.

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