By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Darlington County Council held their regular monthly meeting on Monday, June 4 in the fifth floor courtroom of the county courthouse. During this meeting, Council voted to give themselves a pay raise, finalized budgets for the next fiscal year, and heard concerns regarding their recent redistribution of Accommodations Tax monies.
Council passed second reading of Ordinance 18-06, which increases compensation for members of Darlington County Council. The original ordinance would have altered the pay scale as follows:
Members currently earning $7,000 per year would be bumped up to $7,247; the vice chair currently earning $7,500 per year would be bumped up to $7,764; the chair currently earning $8,200 per year would be bumped up to $8,489.
Council member Bobby Kilgo, citing that Darlington County Council has not voted itself a pay raise since 1991, moved to amend the ordinance to increase those rates, and Council approved his amendment. The new compensation rates would pay the chair $14,000 per year, and the vice chair and regular members $13,000 per year. Only Council member David Coker voted against the pay raise and the amendment.
Council approved final reading for the 2018/19 fiscal year budget, which includes a general fund budget of $22.2 million for operating expenditures. Departmental budgets include $3.7 million for the W. Glenn Campbell Correctional Center, $755,107 for the Prison Farm, $5.58 million for the Sheriff’s Office, $2.79 million for Environmental Services, $2.3 million for the Fire District, $1.4 million for the Library Fund, and $2.3 million for the Darlington County Airport.
Property taxes will be increased by 1.47 mills, per the SC state law millage cap of 2.13 percent.
Also at this meeting, Steve Tinney and Hannah Stanley of the county’s Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee both voiced dismay over Council’s decision to amend the committee’s funding recommendations and redistribute a significant chunk of this year’s $25,000 A-tax pool. The funding pool comes from a 2-percent tax levied on hotels stays in the county.
At County Council’s May 7 meeting, vice chair Le Flowers proposed that all funding be stripped from the Hartsville Center Theater ($8,500), that $1,500 be added to funding for the Butler Heritage Foundation (bringing their funding to $4,000), and the remaining $7,000 be split between the Lamar Egg Scramble Jamboree, the Darlington Pilot Club Sweet Potato Festival, and the Society Hill Catfish Festival, giving each an additional $2,333. Each of those community festivals already receives $3,000 from county Hospitality Tax revenues.
Council members Lewis Brown and David Coker both voted against the amendment, with the balance of Council voting in favor and Chairman Bobby Hudson abstaining. Brown noted that Accommodations Tax rules state that the funds are meant to fund tourism activities which bring in overnight guests from over fifty miles away, and applicants are meant to provide the committee with data verifying that their event meets this qualification.
Tinney argued that committee members carefully studied the state guidelines for A-Tax disbursements, heard presentations from applicants, and received hotel-booking data, which informed their decision-making.
“I realize that as Council members, you have not attended these meetings, but you can imagine there are individuals, groups, and organizations that while promoting very worthwhile events for their community – and their community only – do not meet the state’s requirements as to awarding limited funds for tourism,” said Tinney. “Events that promote Darlington County tourism, with guests staying overnight in our hotels and inns, should be the only recipients.”
Attorney Gene Warr also addressed Council and asked that they consider lowering fees for building permits. Warr claimed that Darlington County’s permitting fees are now the highest in the state and are so prohibitive that they may actually be deterring new housing starts.
“When (a prospective home builder) is told that their building permit fee for a nice home is going to be $3,500 to $4,000 versus building it in Florence County where it’s $900 to $1,000, it’s a factor in their decision,” Warr said.
Darlington County Council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 2 at 6 p.m. Unless otherwise stated, the meeting should take place in the Courthouse Annex located at 1625 Harry Byrd Hwy in Darlington.