A recent Charleston County news release promises “another year of tax cuts for Charleston County residents.” And property taxes would go down under next year’s proposed budget.
But one long-time county councilman reasonably observes that there is more to do on the budget front to keep costs lower. Here’s how Dickie Schweers explains it:
“For the current fiscal year 2014 budget being considered, staff has proposed a 0.8 mill increase to the general fund.
However, due to increased local option sales tax (LOST) collections and resulting taxpayer credits, the net bill for homeowners will be less than last year. Therefore, staff claims it is a tax decrease even despite the millage increase.
“By that same logic, if we analyze the tax years during the recent recession, I could argue that council raised taxes every year. Although council held steady on the millage during the recession years, LOST collections were down during those years, which resulted in higher net bills for homeowners since the LOST credits were less.
“Each of those years, however, council claimed that we did not raise taxes, and the higher bills were simply due to lower LOST collections.”
Put in that light, the proposed budget isn’t so much about council achieving frugality as it is about enjoying improved economic activity, reflected in higher sales tax revenues.
Or to put it another way, county officials might find other areas for budgetary restraint, if they can spare the time from patting themselves on the back.
Mr. Schweers’ comments offer a welcome bit of fiscal reality for council as it heads into final deliberations on its 2013-14 spending plan.
At $194 million, it’s 3.7 percent more than the current county budget — a clear indication that cuts should be considered.