Don't expect too much out of Berkeley County government until next year.
The county is still operating under last year’s budget, County Council has frozen the hiring of top-level employees, and a project to expand the county administration building has been put on hold.
Some county employees wonder if they will still have their jobs in 2019, when a new supervisor takes over leadership.
The uncertainty is a drawback of having a county government run by an elected supervisor.
“That’s all people are used to in Berkeley County,” said Johnny Cribb, who bested incumbent Bill Peagler for the supervisor job by a 63-37 margin in the June 12 Republican primary.
Because no Democrat is running, Cribb is the heir apparent, but his term does not start until Jan. 1, leaving the county in limbo.
“For people who like this form of government, this is what you get,” Cribb said. “Employees have to think about this every four years. They’ve got to wonder, ‘Am I going to lose my job because of politics?’ and that’s just a shame.”
Berkeley is one of four counties statewide that have an elected supervisor, and officials plan to ask voters on Nov. 6 if they want to continue that way or if they would prefer to add a council member and have the county run by a hired administrator.
It’s common for newly elected supervisors to bring in their own leadership. Weeks before Peagler took office in 2015, he sent severance letters to seven employees, mostly department heads who were among the county's highest paid employees.
“That hasn’t been my history, and that’s not my style,” said Cribb, currently Hanahan’s city administrator. “When I got (to Hanahan) I didn’t let go a single employee. I’ll evaluate employees before making any decisions. I’ve definitely got concerns with a few folks, but that’s not what I’ve been thinking about.”
Instead, he’s been assembling a transition team, studying the budget and having meetings to learn about county projects.
By day, he still works at the job he’s held for a decade.
“I don’t plan on taking my foot off the gas in Hanahan,” he said. “The right thing for me right now is respect who pays me, the city of Hanahan. I plan to earn every penny of my pay between now and the end of the year.”
The delay in approving a budget — two weeks into the new fiscal year — and the hiring freeze should not affect residents, said Councilman Josh Whitley, chairman of the Finance Committee.
“There will be no impact other than hopefully a positive, stable transition for the new administration,” he said.
Peagler said he is working with Cribb to ensure a smooth changeover and is “confident that Berkeley County’s success will continue over the next six months and into the future.”
Cribb hopes the same but noted, “I don’t have any authority in Berkeley County right now. Taxpayers are still paying the current supervisor, and the right thing for Berkeley County is for people to show up to work. But either way, the council is conducting business, not worried about whether the supervisor shows up or not.”
On June 25, with the June 30 end of the fiscal year looming, council passed a continuing resolution allowing the county to work temporarily under last year’s budget.
“When a new supervisor is elected, he has to operate under a budget for one-eighth of his term that he didn’t have any input in,” Whitley said. “This budget has 125 new position requests and millions in increased spending, so it makes sense to ask his input.”
Council will consider the final reading on July 23, he said.
On Monday, council froze hiring for five vacant top positions, including human resources director and county engineer — with Peagler’s consent.
Council has also delayed moving forward on the renovation of the former Food Lion next to the county administration building, in part because costs have ballooned to more than twice the $4 million estimated.
“I think it’s unwise to move forward right now, when the configuration might not match the new supervisor’s vision” Whitley said.
The 36,000-square-foot space, adjacent to the former Kmart at 1003 Highway 52 in Moncks Corner that houses most county offices, would be a one-stop shop, consolidating county offices now at other sites.
The supermarket closed in 2012, and the county paid $350,000 for the vacant building two years later.
In 2015, the county issued $30 million in bonds to fund the project, build a library in Cane Bay, improve parking at the county courthouse and upgrade technology and security at the administration building. When the bids for the office expansion came in at more than $8 million, County Council decided to wait until Cribb arrives to give his input.