North Charleston City Council held its fastest budget retreat in memory Friday, lasting less than five hours, underlining the lack of money in a tight budget year.

The $82.2 million spending plan for 2009-2010 includes no tax increases, or layoffs or furloughs of city staff. But there are no employee pay increases or money for new equipment either. That means no new city vehicles will be purchased.

Officials hope to keep the city's fleet going by padding the maintenance department by $200,000.

Some of the biggest changes proposed affect employees. The city's health care plan is being cut back, and so are some of the incentives for city staff.

One casualty is a $5,000 homeowner's incentive loan available to city employees or local teachers who buy in North Charleston.

Employees are also losing a service bonus tied to longevity, and a sick leave bonus of $10 a month for workers who stay healthy.

In his annual budget message, Mayor Keith Summey said this is about the tightest budget he'd been connected with in 22 years of public service.

"This year we'll have to make do with what we've got," he said in a meeting room at the North Charleston Coliseum after addressing the clampdown on vehicle purchases.

The budget plan is a far cry from this time last year, when times were so good that the forecast included enough growth to pay for 36 new employees and 30 new part-time employees. This is the fifth year in a row Summey has not proposed a tax increase.

The only anticipated staff additions are for the Fire Department, where eight positions will be filled with help from the cuts in the city's health plan offering. The move helped free up about $400,000. The firefighters aren't new hires but represent existing positions that had been frozen.

Some council members had hoped to delay the change in health benefits, giving employees more time to absorb the cost change.

A highlight of the change includes a $75 per pay period increase for full family coverage, and more cost picked up after retirement.

Official passage of the budget will come later in the spring.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551, or