HORRY COUNTY — Horry County Council took the next steps to increase its spending to thank its employees and increase the cost to dump trash.
Last year saw some surprising positives for Horry County’s financial situation that prompted the council to consider expanding its budget for the remainder of the fiscal year after greatly decreasing it during the early days of the pandemic.
Despite a more than $20 million hit to the budget from COVID-related revenue shortfalls, cutbacks and savings developed by the financial team back in April and May of 2020 — as well as some surprise revenue increases — have left Horry County in a relatively good financial state to start 2021.
The council cleared a major hurdle on Feb. 2 to approve a planned spending increase, raising the overall budget by $22 million to a total of $481 million, accommodating the sounder financial position.
Council held a public hearing on the increases and approved the second reading through a 11-1 vote.
Councilmember Tyler Servant voted against the changes as he usually does for budgetary increases. Council did not openly debate the issue since it was discussed last month.
A third reading will be required before the changes become official.
Horry County reserves the right to amend its annual budget to address any unknowns through a three-vote amendment process. The budget creation process typically begins in early winter and staff continues to fine tune it through the spring into June when it’s approved.
The current budget cycle, beginning in July, required county staff to create the budget during the highest period of uncertainty during the pandemic. Capital improvements were frozen, as were raises, but no staff members lost their job to layoffs.
Planning for the worst last year is the reason the council is now able to return some programs as main revenue sources like property taxes were largely stable through last year.
These latest revisions don’t have any tax increases, but will make some trash dumping more expensive to help sure up funds in Horry County’s struggling Solid Waste Authority. The fee for solid waste will increase by $2 per ton while discarding construction materials will increase by $1 a ton. Increasing the fee counts as an increase in budget as it will allow the SWA to maintain services.
The SWA has faced growing budgetary concerns as the county grows. In many regards it’s funding has been heading toward a crisis point for years. These increases will help the SWA get by until a more permanent solution can be approved in the newest budget currently being drafted by staff.
In addition, a 3 percent merit-based raise for county employees and staff was approved to thank them for working through the pandemic. While some services were limited due to social distancing procedures, the county’s staff continued to fulfill all its services despite the pandemic conditions.
Over the last several months every council member has publicly praised the staff for their efforts.
“While others stayed at home, our staff were at their posts,” said Barry Spivey, assistant county administrator for finance, when the proposal was originally presented. “We have recurring revenue that is stable and will support this increase.”