MONCKS CORNER -- Berkeley County's proposed budget has become a political battlefield two weeks before an election that includes five council seats and the supervisor's job.
At a glance, the 2010-11 budget seems nothing but good news: no tax increase, no dipping into savings, which helps the county's credit rating, and no furloughs for county workers, who had three unpaid days last year.
By comparison, Charleston County Council is debating increasing taxes for the first time in 10 years.
But Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis and Finance Committee Chairman Jack Schurlknight, who prepared the budget for council's approval, both face opposition in the June 8 primaries. Several council members are faulting them for balancing the budget with a rebate meant to lower residents' tax bills.
Residents get a rebate on their property taxes to make up for paying an extra penny local sales tax, according to the 1996 referendum that authorized the increase. This year the county would use 29 percent of the rebate, or $2.9 million, to balance the budget.
Charleston County is considering using 10 percent of the sales-tax rebate for the budget.
Berkeley County officials had no estimate of how much using some of the sales-tax rebate for the budget would raise tax bills, although Finance Director Kace Smith told council Monday that she would find out before the next meeting.
"This is, in essence, a tax increase," Councilman Dennis Fish said at Monday's finance committee meeting.
Davis dismissed the criticism as politically motivated.
"The whole reason this is coming up is this is an election year," Davis told council.
Schurlknight said it's the only way to balance the budget.
"The bottom line is we're getting the county out of debt," Schurlknight said.
Councilman Tim Callanan urged council to kill the whole budget and start over.
"It's about having our voices heard," he said.
He was successful in the finance committee, which voted 4-3 to kill the budget. Callanan was joined by Fish, Phillip Farley and Cathy Davis.
Caldwell Pinckney, Steve Davis said Robert Call voted against the motion to kill the budget. Dan Davis and Schurlknight didn't vote.
But Dan Davis and Schurlknight voted later during the full council meeting, on a motion to pull the budget back out of the finance committee. The motion passed 5-4, and the budget was resurrected. That means council will consider it again next month, after the primaries.
"Hopefully the politics will be out of the way by then," Schurlknight said after the meeting.