County’s budget: Employee pay raises and a small tax hike

By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

A $38 million budget plan for next fiscal year sailed through Darlington County Council June 3.

Council gave final approval to the budget, which raises taxes slightly. The budget package involves a total increase of 0.81 mills, which means that the owner of a $100,000 home will pay an additional $3.24 in taxes. The millage increase creates about $160,000 in new money for the county, officials said.

Also in the budget package: 2 percent raises for county employees (as “cost of living adjustments,” or COLAs); 4 percent raises for certain jobs, including some positions at the county jail and the county prison farm and also for EMS technicians assigned to ambulances; and 6.5 percent raises for Darlington County Sheriff’s Office positions below the rank of lieutenant.

In other business:

— Council gave initial OKs to deals intended to help bring businesses to the county. The businesses have not been officially identified yet. In one arrangement, known as “Project Dates 2,” council tentatively approved a plan offering a 30-year “fee in lieu of taxes” deal to a company planning half a dozen facilities in the county; all told, those projects call for an investment of at least $141 million over the next five years.

The deal doesn’t identify the company involved. But background material given to the media says: “Many solar projects are looking at South Carolina. Conversion of agricultural property to solar property can produce significant increase(s) in property tax revenue. Company has represented that incentives are critical to project locating in Darlington County.”

Other papers say the company plans to “install solar-power facilities on land owned by various landlords in Darlington County.”

Council also tentatively approved another “fee in lieu of taxes” plan for another company planning a $75 million expansion in the county. This project, known as “Project Heat Wave,” would not bring new jobs, according to background papers given to the media. It would be mainly “machinery and equipment.”

But the background papers note that the project is “critical to the company’s continuing presence in Darlington County.”

— Council took no immediate action on a request for funds to help set up a memorial/park off Pearl Street in memory of the many employees who worked at the Milliken cotton mill before it was shut down in 1956, putting about 500 people out of work. Council members said the request by Peggy Sheffield of the nonprofit West End Heritage Corp. would be taken up next month.

— Sheriff Tony Chavis told council he planned to eliminate an unfilled position at the Sheriff’s Office and spread out the funds among deputies’ salaries.

Also, in a letter to the county administrator, Chavis stated his plans for already budgeted but unspent funds from the Sheriff’s Office and the county jail.

Chavis’ letter said he seeks, in part, to replace the old radios the department is using, buy body cameras for officers who work at the jail, buy specialized rifles for two deputies trained as “designated marksmen” and buy two drones equipped with thermal-imaging cameras.

The drones, Chavis said in the letter, can be used to help search for missing children, search for missing adults with debilitating conditions like Alzheimer’s, scope out the area around a house before deputies serve a search warrant and monitor “outdoor events with large crowds, such as the yearly NASCAR race or Lamar Egg Scramble.”

The county is also planning a $200,000 Evidence Storage Building for the Sheriff’s Office. A document from the county finance department says the agency “does not have any place for evidence preservation.” The new building would be temperature-controlled.

Author: Rachel Howell

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