Our View: No Tax Increases
It is right and proper that the Governments of Laurens County, as far as we know, are not increasing the citizens’ tax burden in this era of the Coronavirus.
Unemployment and business reductions because of government-ordered shut downs have strained business and personal back accounts. Most government officials that we have encountered have agreed this is not the time to tax their constituents; after all, these officials pay taxes, too.
The $26 million budget of School District 56 is being reduced 1.8%, as the district experiences an enrollment decrease of more than 200 pupils.
The $31 million budget of the City of Clinton is increasing 1.7%, still under the national rate of inflation at 1.8% and with no tax increase.
The $33 million budget of Laurens County has no property tax increase, and citizens will receive a small rebate as the council is not keeping part of LOST (the local option sales tax) as an administrative fee. The council is passing along a $10 increase in the vehicle-fee; however, the money is not for general fund use - it is earmarked for repairing Laurens County roads (a $40 Million expense, not including bridges).
The $12 million budget of the Laurens County Water and Sewer Commission includes a small water rate increase, again however, for a specific purpose - replacement of 2009-installed water meters.
As far as we know, there are no dramatic tax increases planned by the City of Laurens or School District 55. Which is good news all around, but it bears watching.
The biggest caveat - the State of South Carolina does not have a FY 20-21 budget. This impacts School Districts the most - nearly all their revenues come from per-pupil reimbursements issued by the state. Reduce that per-pupil amount - or do not fund it fully in accordance with a state-law required formula - and “making up the difference” falls back on local taxpayers. These are the consequences of EFA and EIA (the education finance act and the education improvement act).
At the county level, council vice-chairman Joe Wood points out that FY 20-21 will add 11 full-time employees to the county workforce. Along with each FTE comes salary, equipment, and benefits - not the least of which is state retirement which is an ever-growing burden at the local level. Laurens County officials have complained for years that the local coffers are “shorted” $1 Million a year by the General Assembly not fully funding the Local Government Act. If, in response to the COVID-19 response, state lawmakers raid that fund again, small counties like Laurens will really feel the pinch. Laurens County is bailed out by $2 Million in annual tax growth from the north-west sector of the county, the “spillover” from fast-growing Simpsonville, but who know how long that’s going to last.
And who knows when people “up there” are going to start lobbying for more service - a school, a library, a dedicated full-service fire-police-emergency medical response center. Laurens County will experience more FILOT revenue when the Connexial Center builds out, but more industry means more people traveling and working, and needing to be served by emergency response. (FILOT is the fees in lieu of taxes that industries pay, so they don’t have to pay property taxes, these tax breaks are extended to solar farms even though these do not produce any jobs, after construction).
Plus, the whole issue of water service within Laurens County will get re-evaluated in 2021 when LCWSC brings on-line the Lake Greenwood Water Treatment Plant.
By then we also will know if the county sales tax is going to be increased by The Capital Initiative. The ambitious $35 Million plan will construct 16 projects throughout Laurens County, if it is approved on Nov. 3, 2020, by 50 percent plus one of county voters.
So, as property tax holds steady and sales tax possibly goes up, we salute local leaders for keeping an eye on everybody’s pocketbooks, with the idea of not making a bad situation that much worse.