Holding the line on property taxes
County Decides: No Tax Hike w-update.
With just one reading left before becoming final, Laurens County’s $25 million budget likely will pass without a property tax increase. Also, all money generated by a local sales tax will go toward property tax relief for Laurens County property owners.
County Council members have on their minds, hardships for people who might have been out of work due to the Coronavirus. However, there is something that cushions the blow of the county coffers - growth in Northern Laurens County.
Council is able to take a “hold the line” approach because that growth is adding $2 million a year to county reserves. Council decisions have added about $1 million to general fund spending, but that leaves $1 million more for the county’s “savings account” (state aid is not yet determined; after this round, the amount proposed to come out of local reserves is $1,006,450 to balance the FY20-21 budget; more requests were considered by the council at a May 19 meeting, ie museum, chamber of commerce, higher education).
Growth does not come without a catch, however.
Sheriff Don Reynolds asked for about $1 million more in personnel spending, in large part to cover the north end. He relented when told no one on the county council wanted to add that much to local spending during a statewide “state of emergency.”
He said he could get by with one additional road deputy position (about $60,000/annual with benefits), and that was approved.
Reynolds also is assuming the Animal and Litter Control functions of county government. He previously did not want to take the functions, and have to train and certify these officers in the use of firearms.
“Their stepping up their game changed my mind,” Reynolds said.
The sheriff said these officers (classified as deputy grade three-constable level) need to be able to protect themselves when confronting potentially dangerous animal owners, and their animals. Before, animal control had to call for - and wait for - a Sheriff’s deputy to arrive on a scene before making a confrontation.
Reynolds issued this statement on May 14 concerning his office assuming animal-litter control jurisdiction, "Since I have taken office, we have increased arrests involving animal cruelty by 240%. We have formed a very good working relationship with the Litter and Animal Control personnel. The Laurens County Sheriff’s Office works very effectively with Animal Control to pursue violators and aid these precious animals. The decision was made to have Animal Control operate under the Sheriff’s Office for safety and efficiency. Animal Control has done a good job under the supervision of Dale Satterfield and Geoff Brown. We will continue together as one. The Laurens County Sheriff’s Office will not tolerate animal neglect or cruelty. Period."
Council Chairman Dr. David Pitts thanked Reynolds for being willing to take on the animal-litter control tasks. Training will be provided to four officers - two others work in the animal shelter.
During a budget work session and regular meeting on May 12, council held the line on additional spending for the 8th Circuit Solicitor’s Office. The Solicitor, David Stumbo, asked for $130,000 for two people working in Drug Court.
It could be a matter the council revisits in the future, as members said they saw the need for legal-drug intervention.
“I truly believe it is saving lives,” Stumbo said.
Council authorized the Johnson Detention Center to budget for the actual cost of its contracts, including a new food vendor. Council decided not to add two additional deputy coroners to the budget at this time.
Laurens County has hired a new human resources director, and with that job, will come a new risk manager to work in HR. The county will ask for an IRS ruling on its current practice (not authorized by the council) to classify Sheriff’s Office Sergeant and Lieutenants as non-exempt personnel - a classification that qualifies these officers for overtime.
Council heard about three projects being submitted to The Capital Initiative Sales Tax Committee:
-- a new Clinton Regional Library, estimated cost $4.2 million, to be located at 304 West Pitts St. in the City of Clinton;
-- new radios for Emergency Management, estimated cost $2.4 million, to have all response agencies using the same communications equipment, with ability to talk to neighboring counties;
-- three “splash pads” to be added to parks in Joanna, Ware Shoals and Laurens, using fresh water and not recycled water, with minimal maintenance.
The Capital Initiative Committee is considering projects to be on the Nov. 3, 2020, General Election ballot. If approved, it will add 1-cent to the sales tax throughout Laurens County, to raise $51 million, and will sunset after 8 years even if all the projects are not finished. The tax can be renewed only with a new approval by Laurens County voters.