MONCKS CORNER — Berkeley County is staring at another projected budget shortfall of about $368,000 as a result of the sluggish economy, councilmen were told Wednesday night.

Councilmen also learned that the county collected only about half of the local options sales tax revenue it was planning to pay for capital improvements projects, meaning they have to find $4.7 million to finish the new detention center expansion.

Staff members and financial consultants laid out several options to help remedy both problems. Officials suggested the council vote to issue as much as $10 million in bonds on Monday to replenish the capital improvements projects fund.

Council has already passed two readings of the bond issue in anticipation that it might not have enough money to pay for the jail renovation, but the revenue was significantly lower than expected.

Finance Director Kace Smith said the $10 million would pay for the jail and, if the council chooses, free up some of the capital improvements money to pay debt on vehicle lease purchase payments that now comes out of the county's general fund.

Smith said the council could either vote to borrow $5 million now and another $5 million next year or borrow the entire $10 million now. Councilmen said they would prefer borrowing the money all at once given the uncertain future of interest rates next year.

The problem with borrowing all of the money at once is it potentially could require a tax increase to pay off the interest. Smith told councilmen that they could choose to use the capital improvements fund to pay off that interest instead of raising taxes.

If the county doesn't borrow the money, Smith said, the council would likely have to fix the $368,000 shortfall by taking the money out of its savings.

Smith said the county has already budgeted to take $543,834 out of its savings this year, further depleting an account that, according to its auditor, is already too low.

Smith the projected $368,000 shortfall is a result of decreased document filing fees and permitting fees, combined with a $576,000 cut in state revenue sharing.

Council in December already addressed a projected $450,000 shortfall by shutting down county offices for four days, including three unpaid holidays for all employees.

Supervisor Dan Davis said staff has been working with each department to cut wherever possible.

"We're approaching the point to where we're about as lean as we can be," Davis said.

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