Berkeley County Council passed its budget for the current fiscal year Monday after months of wrangling and a slew of last-minute amendments.
The $61 million budget is a 0.5 percent increase over last year's $58 million budget, and reflects an increase in projected revenue. The tax bill won't look any different from the previous year, according to county Real Property Director Wilson Baggett.
The budget passed without dissent but with 11 amendments. The fiscal year closed at the end of June without a new budget after council deferred it during last week's meeting. Last year, it took until September for the Council to pass the $58-million budget.
This year's amendments included:
. Eliminating debt owed to the county by Cypress Gardens
. Using accommodation fee fund to pay for a $25,000 marketing campaign for Cypress Gardens as a wedding venue
. Changing the overtime policy to time-and-a-half for detention center employees to the tune of $435,000 out of the fund balance
. Purchasing 15 law enforcement replacement vehicles at $571,000 out of the contingency fund
. Using $115,000 from the fund balance for contribution to retirement fund that has run into deficit
The only amendment proposed that did not pass was an immediate 3 percent merit raise for county employees. Councilman Caldwell Pinckney made the amendment and pointed to all of the other amendments taking money from the fund balance.
"If we are going to dig into our fund balance, let's dig a little deeper. Let's give something to our employees," Pinckney said. "Employees are the backbone of the county."
After the amendment failed, Councilman Tim Callanan made an amendment that a merit raise be looked at after Jan. 1, 2015. That amendment passed.
While this year's budget will keep taxes the same for county residents, there will be an extra line item on unincorporated county tax bills in October. Council voted 5-2 to create a stormwater utility to respond to federal mandates and rising costs. Berkeley County was the only coastal S.C. county without a utility up until now. Homeowners will pay $36 this year, $42 in 2015, and $48 from 2016 and beyond.
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