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County council passes 2018 budget

Posted: June 15, 2017 5:24 p.m.
Updated: June 16, 2017 1:00 a.m.

After several amendments and some impassioned discussion punctuated by the occasional verbal dart, Kershaw County Council passed its Fiscal Year 2018 budget during its meeting Tuesday.

The meeting started with five area citizens voicing various concerns regarding the budget. Vic Dabney raised a number of concerns he had, from transparency to millage increases and stated that the debt side of the budget especially concerned him, noting that debt is “killing this country.” He strongly suggested council be more vigilant in finding cuts necessary to fund the county’s needs without raising taxes. 

Allan Gilland and Debbie Bryson both raised concerns about the council’s decisions to pass amendments that included defunding school crossing guards and an SRO. Jim Steele and Tom Webb both spoke of their concerns that tax increases mean increases in dependency on the government which ultimately leads to government overreach; Webb read a poem he wrote about the sacrifices of the allied soldiers at D-Day, noting that they fought against a terrible form of socialism.

Council then embarked on a discussion of several amendments. All but one of the amendments were approved to become part of the budget. 

The vote came in at 6-1, with Council Chairman Julian Burns and Councilmen Dennis Arledge, Al Bozard, Ben Connell, Tom Gardner and Sammy Tucker Jr. voting in favor and Councilman Jimmy Jones voting against the budget.

The budget, which comes in at around $41 million, reflects a 5.1 mill increase for EMS operations, the maximum allowed under Act 388, which the county took over as part of the agreement for Capella Health to acquire KershawHealth.

The budget has been through a number of changes and council has met numerous times in workshop sessions. During its May 9 meeting, council passed second reading of the budget, which included 24 amendments introduced and made in a motion by Tucker. 

At a subsequent budget workshop, Councilman Jimmy Jones, who was not at the May 9 council meetings, brought up concerns regarding the number of amendments as well as concerns regarding two of the amendments, one which proposed cutting $13,478 to fund crossing guards at two schools in Elgin and $63,000 to fund a school resource officer for a school located in Camden. 

Tuesday night the budget got a few more tweaks.

Amendments

County Administrator Vic Carpenter started the discussion with recommendations for several changes.

“As is always the case, there have been several changes that have occurred to the budget since second reading,” Carpenter said. “These are either the result of actions by outside entities, such as the General Assembly, or costs that were estimated at one point, but are now known, such as premiums for property and liability insurance. In some cases, they are the result of a staff determination that certain line items can be changed – added or deleted – based on review of known certainties.”

Carpenter then made the following recommendations:

• Administrative changes, which incluieded a decrease in the local government fund revenue line of $43,279, addition of a new revenue line item, “P Card Rebate” of $11,250; increase expenditure for P&L insurance; and decrease in retirement costs, $69,643;

• Change fund sources utilized to fund three outside entities, Historic Camden ($1,875), Fine Arts Cednter ($2,250), and Chamber of Commerce ($15,000) from the General Fund to the Local Accomodations Tax Fund;

• Adjust line items to include decreasing unemployment taxes ($5,000), decreasing Voter Registration supplies ($4,000), decreasing supplies and cell phone from the Adminsitrator’s budget ($2,200).

The result of these adjustments would yield $38,750 for reallocation to other areas.

In addition, Carpenter recommended carrying forward $148,905 in funds allocated for the Pecan Orchard, a public works project.

Council passed this recommendation as a budget amendment unanimously.

Tucker then proposed an amendment that re-instated $13,470 to fund the two Elgin area school crossing guards from the money freed up due to Carpenter’s recommendations. This passed unanimously. 

Bozard was next, proposing an amendment to reallocate $63,000 to finish restroom renovations at the main terminal building at Woodward Field (airport); this would come from $69,000 previously allocated from reserve funds for a library project that was never completed.

Both Bozard and Burns noted that the airport is an important economic development tool and finishing renovations would pay the county future dividends in economic development efforts.

“There are a lot of companies and executives flying in here, and a lot of times, that airport is their first impression of our county,” Bozard said. “As a businessman who flies around the state, I know what it’s like to have a good airport.”

This was also approved as an amendment to the budget unanimously.

The next amendment, proposed by Connell, would spark some debate and discussion.  Connell proposed to remove from the budget a 2 percent pay increase for county employees, to be replaced with a one-time salary increase of $500 per employee and re-allocate the remaining balance to fund a school resource officer in Camden at $63,000 and to increase the county’s contribution to the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office by $50,000.

Connell said he is very appreciative of the hard work of county employees and did not make these suggestions lightly. However, in a very tough budget year, he believes more belt tightening is necessary in order to ensure services are maintained. He also noted that the Kershaw County School District has been helpful and open to seeking options for funding all SROs and in fact has done all the county has asked it to do.

Connell noted the solicitor’s office is working on funding a Victim’s Advocate position.

“I don’t believe people should have to pay to seek private counsel to navigate their way through the maze of criminal court proceedings and other issues when they have already been the victim of a crime,” he said.

Jones agreed, noting the county currently pays around $320,000 to help fund the solicitor’s office and has consistently increased its contributions every year. He also said Richland County currently funds more than half of the solicitor’s office’s $770,000 budget, yet Solicitor Dan Johnson still ensures Kershaw County receives the services it needs from that office.

“I think we need to do these things in good faith,” he said.  

As to the SRO question, Jones said the county has made the funding an issue, not anyone else.

“The school district has done everything we asked them to do. We created this problem with the funding – we had a balanced budget for the SROs.”

This sparked some debate. Gardner said KCSD’s budget has grown from $51-80 million since 2007; the county’s is currently at $41 million. He said the funding issue has been ongoing for seven years and keeps coming back to the county because no other entity seems to be interested in funding them.

Burns alluded to legal opinions from both the state attorney general and county attorney Ken DuBose, both of whom have indicated it would probably not be legal, under Act 388 for the county to fund SROs. He also pointed out that money is available from other sources, such as the city of Camden and also added the county has made it clear for some time it was preparing to turn the funding over to either KCSD or the city.

“This is a self-inflicted wound,” Burns said. “We took it for our children and that’s a noble thing, but we also have a responsibility to maintain vital services to our citizens …  Also, I don’t like taking a raise from our employees … when there are other resources available.”

But Jones was not convinced, reiterating that KCSD has done what the county has asked it to do, and reiterating the district’s work in helping the county build a trained and ready work force, all on an existing budget and without a tax increase.

“We have heard the AG’s opinion invoked over and over…but the AG’s opinion does not carry the weight of law,” Jones said. “We had a balanced budget on SROs, we defunded them, we made this an issue …  quite frankly, I’m surprised we’re even having this discussion.”

Arledge asked Carpenter how many counties fund all their SROs. Carpenter replied that he could not find any that fund all of them; and only a handful that provide any funding at all. Arledge also asked if any other body had proposed any solutions. Carpenter answered that the county had thus far proposed all solutions; KCSD had been very open and reception to those discussions, but had not made any proposals, nor had the city.

Also, in answer to a question from Burns, Carpenter said more than $8 million in budget requests from county departments have been denied this year.

Tucker also agreed with defunding the SRO, saying he would not be willing to fund anything at the expense of a raise for employees.

The amendment did not pass. Connell, Jones and Bozard voted in favor; Arledge, Burns, Gardner and Tucker voted against it.

 The next amendment discussed involved funding of four new ball fields in West Wateree Recreation Complex. Council had voted to rescind Jones' motion made and passed during the May 23 meeting regarding funding of the proposed ball fields. This was done at Jones’ request, due to his basing the original motion on erroneous information council received regarding funding sources at the May 23 meeting.

Connell made a motion to fund the construction of four new lighted ball fields at the West Wateree Complex to be funded with Recreational Restricted Funds ($224,609), 2014 Installment Revenue Purchase Bond Funds ($227,272) and funds remaining from a capital murder case that was settled before going to trial ($250,000). This amendment passed unanimously.

Tucker made a motion to use the remaining funds associated with the county administrator’s amendments ($25,262) for professional services to include contracted studies. This passed unanimously.

The final vote

Tucker made a motion to adopt the budget with Gardner seconding. Council members then commented briefly.

“Many items went unfunded,” Burns said. “It was a year of apportioning shortages … but much was done, too. Better solid waste service, better ambulance service and we put nearly $1 million into brand new ball fields in Kershaw County West. A fine budget in a terrible climate even though some tried to make a fuss out of a continuing dialogue on school SROs, an important issue which the school board and I are working as friends … it’s been a tough year, but just wait until next year, because next year shows no improvement.”

Connell and Bozard both commented that while they were disappointed in some of the outcomes, most notably the defunding of the SRO, they both felt the budget overall was strong and would support it.  Arledge and Gardner both voiced their support for the budget as well. 

Jones, however, expressed intense dissatisfaction.

“I will not vote for this budget, I can’t in good faith … it’s clear the cards were dealt beforehand … I hope everyone feels good about themselves after giving their commentary up here tonight,” he said.

Council voted to approve the budget 6-1, with Arledge, Bozard, Burns, Connell, Gardner and Tucker voting to approve and Jones voting against it.

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