Charleston County Council voted 5-3 Tuesday to approve a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for county employees, and gave unanimous approval to a $32.5 million plan to widen Bees Ferry Road.

The pay raises for the county's 2,300 employees will take effect in early October. The cost to the county will be about $3 million, Keith Bustraan, the county's chief financial officer, said.

Council members Colleen Condon, Anna Johnson, Teddie Pryor, Vic Rawl and Elliott Summey voted for the increase. Dickie Schweers, Herb Sass and Joe Qualey voted against it. Councilman Henry Darby was absent.

Pryor said the raise is deserved for employees "who stuck with us through thick and thin." Rawl said it helps employees recoup income lost when changes were made in insurance coverage.

Opponents called the expenditure unwise. Qualey maintained that the county has more pressing needs, including "dirt road issues," and Sass said that while he has "the utmost respect for our employees," his vote is tied to budget issues.

Schweers contended that due to a weak economy "this is not the time for this."

Council's Finance Committee recommended that Banks Construction Co., which bid $32,511,252.31, get the Bees Ferry widening contract. Rawl said the heavily traveled road between U.S. Highway 17 and S.C. Highway 61 will be four-lanes.

Changes will be made at Highway 17, and sidewalks and a multiuse lane are planned, he said.

Rawl said the county and the city of Charleston expect to work together on drainage issues at the same time the road work is under way to lessen traffic impacts.

Qualey made an unsuccessful effort to convince fellow council members to reconsider its August approval of the city's request to spend $518,000 in Greenbelt funds to buy 6.5 acres near the Angel Oak.