Proposed Berkeley County budget includes tax increase

Berkeley County Deputy Supervisor Tim Callanan

Berkeley County taxpayers could see a higher property tax bill next year if the proposed budget gets final reading next month.

On Wednesday, after a budget presentation to the finance committee, County Council gave second reading approval to a $66.4 million operating budget that would bring the tax bill for a owner occupied $150,000 house to $300, a $30 increase.

Most of the increase is due to about $3 million in unfunded mandates from the state, Supervisor Bill Peagler said.

Members of the Council made it clear they approved the budget Wednesday only to advance it. The next fiscal year starts July 1.

“This budget is far from being the final budget but we have a process that we adhere to and part of the process is to move it along,” Councilman Steve Davis said of the second reading approval.

Third reading “is where the rubber’s going to hit the road and we are going to have to make hard decisions,” Councilman Jack Schurlknight said.

Council approved first reading in April by title only and sent the issue to the finance committee.

The budget includes an up to 5 percent merit increase and a “small” cost of living increase for employees starting in October, Deputy Supervisor Tim Callanan said. The county loses employees to neighboring counties because pay is low, he said.

“We want to give county employees an increase they not only deserve but need,” Peagler said.

The budget includes funds for an additional sheriff’s deputy on patrol each of the four daily shifts and eight officers for the detention center, which will allow the county to open to unused third floor.

It also includes a switch to 12-hour shifts for county EMS workers.

The current 24-hour EMS shifts “are great for a sleepy, rural county, but we’re not a sleepy rural county anymore,” Callanan said. “They cannot be taking the amount of calls that they are taking in a 24-hour period without rest without incurring some sort of liability to the county.”

Although several council members said they approved the budget only to keep it on schedule, Councilman Josh Whitley was the lone vote against it.

“I will not raise taxes, period,” he said Thursday.

The final reading of the budget will likely be at the June 22 meeting.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.