Berkeley County officials thought they were allowing the incoming supervisor to come up with his own budget when they passed a continuing resolution last month.
But an unintended consequence is that some purchases are on hold until Supervisor-elect Johnny Cribb takes office in January. Top-level positions could sit empty and projects could be delayed.
Council's action also possibly encourages residents to support a Nov. 6 referendum on the county’s form of government because having a hired administrator instead of an elected supervisor would avoid the lame-duck issue.
“It certainly is a factor to weigh when examining which system of government is better,” said Council Finance Committee Chairman Josh Whitley.
Berkeley is one of four counties that still elects its leader, according to the South Carolina Association of Counties. The others — Chester, Union and Williamsburg — have a combined population of less than half of Berkeley’s 218,000-plus residents.
The June 25 continuing budget resolution keeps funding at the same levels as last fiscal year, which ended June 30. But the action tied the hands of department heads wanting to fill vacant positions or buy new technology.
Council is set to consider several of requests Monday at special finance committee and council meetings.
To avoid an avalanche of resolutions, county officials reduced 30 requests to 15 that were considered critical.
Among the items not making the cut for consideration were $1,600 for printers for the Sheriff’s Office, $600,000 for Water & Sanitation to relocate a communications tower, and $1.28 million for a bulldozer and other heavy equipment for Water & Sanitation.
The requests officials deemed critical included:
- $1.4 million for 22 new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office.
- $45,000 for a school resource officer for Mevers School of Excellence, a Goose Creek public charter school.
- An unspecified salary to fill the vacant human resources director position.
- Almost $65,000 for salary adjustments for the public defender’s office, the result of a Charleston County salary study and required by state law.
- $1.4 million to pay for relocating the water line at the Jedburg interchange.
Council could have avoided the resolutions by approving the proposed budget in June, but it chose to pass a continuing resolution instead.
“We have concerns regarding both revenue projections of the past year and going forward and need to ensure we are appropriately appropriating,” Whitley said. “I am confident the people of Berkeley County want us to get it right, not rushed.”
Council could pass the budget before Cribb takes office, but is in no hurry to do so, he said.
Last year’s budget dipped into the county’s fund balance to the tune of $5 million, “which indicates poor revenue projections and overspending,” Whitley said.
Cribb, who bested incumbent Bill Peagler in the June Republican primary, has been spending his spare time meeting with county officials and studying the budget while waiting to be sworn into office. There is no Democrat running for the position.
“County Council obviously has concerns about this year’s budget,” he said. “They asked me to look at it and I’m looking at it.”
For the last decade, Cribb has served as administrator for the city of Hanahan, a job he intends to keep until December.
“I have never presented a budget in Hanahan with a tax increase,” he said. “We take the approach of, ‘Here’s our revenue and how do we spend it efficiently?’ I am leaving Hanahan flush with cash and no debt.”
He plans to bring his self-described fiscal conservatism to the county job.
“We’ve got to make sure we spend our money wisely,” he said. “The taxpayers of Berkeley County are on the hook for whatever you dream up. I’d love for them to look at something and go, ‘Wow! Good project.’ ”
Cribb is not the first to find himself waiting months to move into the supervisor’s office.
Four years ago, Peagler also had to wait half a year to take office after he unseated then-Supervisor Dan Davis. And eight years before that, Davis did the same after beating longtime Supervisor Jim Rozier.
In 2014, Peagler planned to try to have some influence on the budget and to meet with department heads, but the transition did not go as smoothly as planned after Davis limited Peagler to meeting with employees individually instead of with the “transition team,” as Peagler preferred.
This year, Peagler has vowed to council and Cribb that he will work to make the transition smooth.