1 Dissenting Vote on County's Budget
County Council finalizes budget on a 5-1 vote
In an unusual Thursday night meeting, Laurens County Council passed the county’s next budget, a $22.9 million spending plan without public comment or discussion.
“We have worked very hard. We may not all be pleased but under the circumstances, we met about all the needs of the county,” council member Diane Anderson said.
Council Vice-chairman Joe Wood voted “no”; one seat is vacant, so the vote was 5-1. Wood objects to the county using 29% of LOST funds as a budget-balancing tool. He has said it needs to be tapped in emergencies, only, but not as a routine (LOST is the 1-cent local option sales tax; 29% is the maximum allowed by law for the county to keep as an administrative fee, the rest goes to property tax relief). Others have said the money will be tapped only as a “last resort”.
Wood voted against the 29% when it came up last Tuesday night for a separate vote, by ordinance. Also last Tuesday, council unanimously approved a separate Fire Service Budget ($2,935,00), also with no comments from the public. Council rarely holds two meetings in the same week.
Public hearings about the 29% money and the fire budget were conducted Tuesday night. A public hearing about the General Fund Budget was conducted Thursday night.
The General Fund Budget outlines spending of $22,975,832 for FY19-20. Revenues are projected at $22,250,117, a revenue increase of 1.97% ($7 million of that is projected to come from property taxes). The county can raise taxes only the rate of inflation, now at 2.7%.
Last year, taxes generated $6,478,172, budget figures show (find the complete budget at laurenscounty.us under the treasurer’s office).
There will be an $87,257 transfer from the fund balance. That figure was $743,603 last year. In addition to the Fire Service, EMS and Solid Waste have budgets or enterprise funds separate from the General Fund.
The county also is entitled to collect a 6-mil “deficit reduction” property tax, established by county ordinance.
Some notable figures from the next county budget:
- Planning up 248% to $66,163 (it was $0 in 2016);
- Miscellaneous up 127%;
- Sheriff’s Office up 4%, with 8 replacement cars in the capital budget;
- Administration up 1%, including $148,867 in the salary line, up 2%;
- Capital totals $1,033,900, for equipment;
- EMS Fund, a pilot program, revenue $3.9 million, expenses $3.62 million;
- Fire Fund, revenue $2,935,000, expenses $2,820,820 (capital spending $730,452).
Thursday night, council spent 43 minutes in a closed session (added to the agenda) to discuss an unspecified personnel matter. It took no action.
Last Tuesday night, council also conducted a closed session to receive a legal briefing. It was about renovations to the historic courthouse.
Council agreed to take $63,000 in “leftover money” to replace the HVAC at the Church St., building, the former administration facility for Laurens County, now vacant. Some offices will be moved there, temporarily, from the historic courthouse during renovations.
The county will spend $700,000 to repair damaged wood and install fire-suppression equipment and alarms in the building, which is on The Square in downtown Laurens. Full restoration could cost $3 million to $10 million, a consultant has told the county.
That could be included on a “to do” list of projects for a capital initiative going before the voters in November 2020. Before that happens, the council must appoint a 6-member study committee that will craft the referendum question.
With voter approval, Laurens County will net $44 million in the first year of the capital initiative – an additional 1-cent local sales tax. It “sunsets” after 7 years.