As municipalities and other governmental agencies struggle with tough budget decisions, North Charleston City Council is on its way to approving a budget that gives employees merit raises but does not increase the bottom line for taxpayers.
The $110.5 million budget represents an increase of $4.8 million, or about 4.6 percent over last year.
“The local economy continues to show signs of reasonably moderate gains,” Mayor Keith Summey said. “Our revenue projections reflect a small level above a conservative but still realistic approach.”
The proposed budget, approved by Council’s Finance Committee on Wednesday, will now go before the full body for approval later this month.
Summey said he is happy to be able to give employees more pay this year, continuing an evaluation system for merit raise the city implemented last year. Eligible employees will again get pay-for-performance raises of up to 3.5 percent starting in January, costing the city about $750,000.
“The city has been fortunate to provide some form of salary increase to its employees for seven of the last eight years while a large majority of other governments have been holding salaries flat over that same time period and also continuing a furlough program,” Summey said.
For instance, both Dorchester County government and District 2 schools are considering tax hikes, but only school district employees are slated for pay raises.
North Charleston’s budget includes more than $400,000 for “community promotions,” which includes donations to organizations such as the Charleston Miracle League ($2,500), Hunley Restoration ($50,000) and Black Expo ($20,000).
In addition, health care costs have led the city to consider opening a health clinic for employees and their dependents. A clinic could reduce the city’s costs related to health care visits, pharmaceuticals and lab tests, Summey said.
Councilman Todd Olds was the lone vote against the budget, which he said was because he wants to continue his conservative approach to the city’s finances.
“I tell my constituents I support projects that deal with the core services of the city,” he said. “I think we are far outside on some things that are not necessities and could wait.”
He said he does not support the city spending up to $500,000 over the next two years to subsidize the Stingrays hockey team.
The council voted in February to give the team up to $250,000 or half of their annual losses, whichever is less, for the next two years.
In addition, the city continues to subsidize its municipal golf course, The Golf Club at Westcott Plantation, a perpetual money-loser.
“There is just a lot of fat and I don’t think the tax payers should have to pay for it,” Olds said. The city’s budget has increased by more than $22 million over four years, Olds said.
“I just think if it’s not a tax increase this year, I think it could be a tax increase next year and at some time that has to stop,” he said. “I’m a taxpayer, too.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.