North Charleston budget

Proposed 2013-14 budget: $99.9 million

Current budget: $95 million

Property tax increase: $500,000

Cost to someone with a $150,000 home: $6

A key reason for rising spending: Growing police and fire departments, and rising salary costs.

With a proposed spending increase of more than 5 percent, North Charleston’s budget would approach the $100 million mark in the coming year, and a property tax increase is planned to help fund it.

A flurry of hiring in the police and fire departments, which account for more than half of North Charleston’s spending, makes up much of the rising costs. The city decided to hire 21 police officers and post them in public elementary schools after the December massacre of 20 children and six adults at a school in Connecticut.

And in the coming budget for the 12 months starting July 1, the growing city plans to hire another dozen firefighters.

The $99.9 million budget proposed by Mayor Keith Summey includes $4.9 million in new spending and about $500,000 in new taxes. The city’s increasing tax base, and the effect of the recovering economy on sales tax collections and business license fees, will make up the difference.

The proposed tax increase would cost someone with a home worth $150,000 another $6 a year, bringing the city’s bill to $570.

If that same home were rented out, and assessed for taxes as a commercial property, the increase would be $9 a year. Properties other than owner-occupied homes are assessed at higher rates in South Carolina, so they see a larger impact from any tax increase.

Summey said the tax increase is needed to cover the cost of new vehicles, some of which are related to the new police and fire employees, and other equipment. The city also raised the property tax last year, with an increase four times the size of the one proposed now.

Compared with just two years ago, city revenues and spending would increase nearly 10 percent in the coming year, and Summey described the revenue projections as somewhere between conservative and realistic in his budget message to City Council.

The council, except for Councilwoman Dot Williams, who was absent, met for about six hours Friday with Summey and city staff to pick over the details of the spending plan. In the end, they voted unanimously to recommend the plan to the Finance Committee, on which all council members sit.

During the meeting there was less talk of cutting the budget than there was discussion about finding ways to pay for additional priorities, such as completing the sidewalks the city agreed were needed in a plan created several years ago.

Councilman Bobby Jameson chaired the meeting and raised a question about whether the city should continue to donate nearly half a million dollars to nonprofit groups, while it’s raising the property tax by roughly the same amount.

“Do we really want to do that?” he said.

Most council members and the mayor said that yes, they do. The largest of the contributions, $150,000, goes to the Charleston Promise Neighborhood initiative that Summey said the city has pledged to support.

“It’s less than one-half of 1 percent of the budget,” the mayor said of the donations.

Councilman Todd Olds successfully requested adding $2,500 to the list of contributions, for the Children’s Miracle League, and said: “I think it’s sad if we have a $100 million budget and can’t give $2,500 for children.”

Councilman Ed Astle questioned why the city can’t use some of the many millions of dollars it will receive from settling a lawsuit with the state over the former Navy base, and for the planned sale of the city-owned former Naval Hospital and Shipwatch Square properties.

“Why don’t we take some of that money and get some of these sidewalks done,” he said, referring to a $30 million list of requested sidewalk projects.

Summey said the city usually ads funds for sidewalks each time it does a bond issue, and includes the cost in long-term budget plans.

The spending plan will go through a series of public meetings before it is final. The next stop for the budget is a May 16 meeting of the Finance Committee.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.