A Charleston County spending plan that was initially going to raise property tax bills will now instead lower them, after County Council devised a way to tap a large fund balance meant for solid waste purposes.
For property owners, the upshot is that tax rates wouldn't change and the county's portion of property tax bills should decrease by $25 because of a one-time credit against the county's solid waste fee.
A third and final vote on the budget, scheduled for June 15, would cement the deal.
Left unanswered is how the county might balance its budget a year from now, when county finance officials expect less revenue to be available.
The county is cutting spending and reducing services for a third year in a row. This year's solution to balancing the budget -- spending the government's rainy day fund -- is a one-time source of money.
County officials have decided they don't need the fund, which is intended for dealing with natural disasters, because they can instead tap the large solid waste fund balance to pay for such costs as cleaning up after a hurricane.
Council Chairman Teddie Pryor and others hailed the plan as a bipartisan compromise, and spoke of working late nights and through the weekend to reach the deal.
County Council approved the plan on a 7-2 vote Tuesday, with Henry Darby and Vic Rawl opposed. Rawl, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, said he was concerned about spending the fund balance, but applauded the compromise that led to the plan.
Councilman Curtis Inabinett noted that no one spoke about the county's budget at an advertised public hearing before the council meeting, and before the plan to cut taxes was announced.
"I feel the taxpayers must be pretty satisfied," he said.
But several members of council had criticized the earlier plan to raise taxes by, on average, about $25.
Councilman Paul Thurmond, who is running for Congress in a heated Republican primary, had raised the question at an earlier meeting about whether the solid waste fund could be used for the same purpose as the rainy day fund. The county's legal team later concluded that it could.
"We still have a very good (financial) cushion," Thurmond said Tuesday.
The county has a large solid waste fund balance partially because of the decision to close the garbage incinerator, and several council members said that ongoing changes to the way Charleston County deals with garbage should save even more money.
Councilwoman Colleen Condon said reducing the solid waste fee temporarily could force the county to be as efficient as possible.
The county budget would increase a number of fees, mostly related to real estate development, to better reflect the county's cost in providing those services. Fees at the Charleston County animal shelter are among those increasing, but all the fee increases together amount to about $100,000.
The solid waste fee credit for taxpayers is worth about $6.75 million.