County budget clears public hearings

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Darlington County Council held a public hearing and second reading for the 2017/18 fiscal year budget at their May 1 regular meeting. No citizen raised any issues or concerns during the public hearing, and Council voted unanimously for approval.

This budget contains a new Emergency Services Fee, contained in Ordinance 17-04, which would increase vehicle fees from $30 to $45 and bump property fees from $60 to $80. At Council’s April 4 work session, county administrator Charles Stewart explained that this fee increase would keep the county from again raiding the general fund to cover budget shortfalls.

Darlington Middle School student Cameron Graham asked Darlington County Council for help with his street. After heavy rain, the road becomes impassable for his school bus.

Stewart explained that since EMS Ambulance Service fees annually yield five percent above the total prior fiscal year’s budget, state law requires the county to establish a separate Emergency Services fund, segregated from the general fund. The new fund would include EMS, 911 Central Communications, and Emergency Preparedness.

Separating out the Emergency Services fund will allow the county to assess new fees in order to meet the county’s funding needs. With the current proposed budget, Stewart said the county would either need to transfer just over $1.4 million from the general fund to cover expenses, or establish Emergency Services fee increases of $15 per vehicle and $20 per residence, which would yield the same amount.

The 2017/18 budget needs an additional revenue source to cover future expenses, such as a mandatory two-percent state retirement contribution increase ($265,000), three new guards at the Detention Center (bringing the county closer to PREA compliance at a cost of $100,000), a new IT position ($40,000), and a 2.5 percent raise for all employees ($323,000).

At the April 4 work session, Stewart observed that this 2.5 percent increase would provide back a portion of take-home wages employees have lost since 2012 through mandatory retirement contribution increases and health care costs. He called it a LOLA (Loss of Living Adjustment) rather than a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment), which the county hasn’t provided in five years. Also, the increased retirement contributions will cost an additional $3.5 million over the period of 2018 to 2023.

Stewart noted that if the county stops using its fund balance to plug budget holes, the fund could return to the healthy levels within four years.
Other additions to this year’s budget include $10,000 for Darlington County Sheriff’s Office overtime costs, adding a fire marshal to the Darlington County Fire District, adding two landfill attendants and a full time mechanic to the Environmental Services department, and returning a compliance and training position for EMS to review medical charts and perform DHEC-required quality assurance functions.

The proposed general fund budget for FY 2018 stands at $21.3 million, including $5.3 million for the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office and $3.7 million for the W. Glenn Campbell Correctional Center.

Proposed departmental budgets include $829,160 for the Emergency Telephone Fund, $1.3 million for the County Library Fund, $3.2 million for Environmental Services, $1.9 million for the Fire District, $3.8 million for Emergency Services, $482,335 for the Airport Fund, $55,525 for the State Accommodations Tax Fund, $324,716 for the Hospitality Tax Fund, $1.6 million for Road Maintenance, and $475,000 for the Hartsville Fire Protection District.

On the regular agenda, Council approved the FY 17/18 funding recommendations of the Accommodations Tax Committee, and approved the donation of two ambulances – one to the Lamar Rescue Squad and one to the Society Hill Rescue Squad.

A decision on who will receive the medical services contract for the W. Glenn Campbell Detention Center was postponed until Council’s June 5 meeting.
Also at this meeting, Darlington Middle School student Cameron Graham asked Council to help repair his street. Graham said that his section of Flatnose Road gets boggy after heavy rain and becomes impassable for his school bus. He also told Council that his mother is legally blind and sometimes has to pay someone to drive him to school.

“On April 24, the bus picked me up at 6:30 a.m., and did not return down my road until April 27,” said Graham. “I worry every time it rains if the bus will pick me up or not. Is this my responsibility?”

Council offered sympathy to Graham for his situation and praised his initiative, then referred the matter to Stewart, who said he would check into whether the county owns that section of Flatnose Road.

The 2017/18 budget will come up for third and final reading at Council’s June 5 regular meeting, set to begin at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse Annex located at 1625 Harry Byrd Hwy in Darlington. The meeting will be open to the public.

Author: Duane Childers

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