N. Charleston plans more spending, but no tax hike

As North Charleston grows the city has been adding more firefighters, police officers, public works employees and other personnel. Rising payroll costs are one reason the city's budget could rise $5.6 million in the year starting July 1. (File/Brad Nettles/Staff)

With a rising population and a growing economy, North Charleston may spend an additional $5.6 million to operate the state's third-largest city in the coming year.

Unlike the city's past two budget plans, this one doesn't call for a property tax increase. Rising revenues from existing taxes would allow for the rise in spending.

When the city's property tax was raised last year, Mayor Keith Summey pledged that it would be at least several years before another increase.

The $105.6 million budget has been discussed at a city council workshop, and will go through a series of meetings and a public hearing in May before adoption.

The city's growing workforce would see a direct impact from the rising budget because they would be eligible for pay raises, and many would be driving newer city vehicles as part of a $5.5 million upgrade to the city's aging fleet.

Performance-based pay increases will raise the city's payroll by 3.5 percent, at a cost of $750,000. Employee raises may be higher or lower than 3.5 percent, based upon evaluations.

For most city residents, the effects of the rising city budget will be subtle. There will be 14 more city employees, mostly in the public works department, but the budget doesn't call for any big new initiatives.

"I'd say there are minor enhancements to the services we are providing," city spokesman Ryan Johnson said. "Hopefully the average person already thinks we are doing a pretty good job."

Previous budgets added more firefighters and police officers to the city's ranks, including 21 officers hired to police every elementary school in North Charleston last year, following the December 2012 mass shooting of 20 children and six adults at a school in Connecticut.

For the new budget year starting July 1 the mayor proposes nearly $105.6 million in spending, up from the current year budget of $99.9 million.

Census Bureau estimates in 2012 put North Charleston's population at 101,989, so city plans to spend about $1,035 for every resident.

In neighboring Charleston, the state's second-largest city, the current-year budget is $148.9 million and the estimated population was 125,583 in 2012.

North Charleston expects to finish out this budget cycle on June 30 with money to spare.

"We're looking at a surplus of $1 million to $1.5 million," Finance Director Warren Newton said.

City Councilman Bobby Jameson, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the expected surplus suggests that the last property tax increase was not needed.

"That tells me we didn't need to raise taxes by a half-million dollars last year," said Jameson, who voted against that budget.

The city had a small property tax increase last year, adding about $6 to the annual bill of someone with a home worth $150,000. The year before that, a tax increase roughly four times as large was approved.

In the coming year, the city anticipates strong revenue increases due to a growth-related rise in property tax revenues, plus more business license revenues based on companies' incomes, and more revenues tied to sales taxes, restaurants, and hotels.

"There's been greater commercial growth than residential, but we've also seen lots of residential growth," Newton said.

Jameson said North Charleston didn't suffer as much during the recession as many parts of the state and nation.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.