Berkeley County residents will not see a property tax increase to fund county operations if the proposed budget for 2014-15 is passed, but they could be asked in November if they want to fund additional sheriff's deputies and patrol cars.
The $61 million budget presented by County Supervisor Dan Davis on Monday does not include pay raises for employees. It does restore about $440,000 for the Trident Technical College Nursing and Science Building, which was cut out of last year's budget.
"It was a very difficult budget to put together," Davis said. "But we got it done. When you've got $78.8 million worth of requests (from county departments) and $61 million worth of money, you've got to balance it out. To cut out $17 million is pretty tough, but everybody requests what they want and a lot of that is pie-in-the-sky."
Homeowners would not see an increase in the county operating budget portion of their tax bill, which is currently about $300 annually on an owner-occupied home worth $150,000.
Davis also suggested creating a separate budget for the sheriff's office, which requested additional deputies, vehicles and other equipment.
"Quite honestly, I don't see a solution without the dreaded tax increase," he said. "I recommend that we look at putting it on the November ballot and . let the voters decide whether they want to fund them or not. It's a little bit out of the box, but I always believe in letting the voters decide whenever we can."
Councilman and finance committee chairman Tim Callanan said he thinks that's a bad idea.
"We are going to be asking voters to re-up the one-penny sales tax for roads," he said. "To try to put on them a second tax hike would jeopardize the penny tax."
He also said that he didn't think voters county-wide would go for a tax hike that would provide increased patrols only in unincorporated areas.
"I'd rather find a solution without pitting the unincorporated and the incorporated areas against each other," he said.
Davis' proposed budget includes 23 new officers for the Hill-Finklea Detention Center: seven funded through the general budget and 16 paid for through a portion of a 1 percent sales tax that was originally intended to be a tax rebate.
Since May 1997, the county has collected 1 cent on the dollar with plans to reduce property tax bills. But in 2008, council voted to spend 29 percent of that money on projects like the detention center expansion, road improvements and other capital improvement projects.
Last year, Callanan maintained that the money, about $3 million a year, was treated as a regular part of the budget. He vowed to try to return it to taxpayers, and council passed a budget that lowered the amount to 20 percent. That is unchanged for the upcoming year, with the money earmarked for the deputies and allowing the county to open the unused third floor of the overcrowded detention center.
"I'd like to thank the supervisor for . not stepping back on the local option sales refund," said Callanan, who is often at odds with Davis. "I just want to be on the record of saying I certainly appreciate the effort on that. I feel really good about what we're going to be able to accomplish in this year's this budget. Personalities and politics aside, things look very good for Berkeley County."
Callanan said he will propose some tweaks to the budget. For instance, he supports funding a new ambulance before buying fitness equipment for county employees.
He aims to have the budget passed before this year's runs out on June 30.
Last year, the council passed a continuing appropriations resolution that kept spending at the prior year's level after Callanan said he did not get Davis' proposed budget in time to study it. In August, council passed a $58 million budget which Davis said as recently as February was not balanced.
Tuesday, he said otherwise.
"The current budget is balanced," he said. "When we pass a budget, we start the first day trying to cut expenses and we work all year long. So we ended the year with about $1.3 million that we didn't spend and then we received about $470,000 in revenue that we didn't anticipate."
That resulted in $1.85 million left in the general fund.
"When we formed the budget last year, we suspected there was some padding going on," Callanan said. "Obviously, we were vindicated in our opinion."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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