County Council hits ‘pause’ on pay raises, tax increase, ‘A-tax’ spending

By Bobby Bryant, Editor

A divided Darlington County Council last week slammed the brakes on the county’s proposed budget for next fiscal year and on a committee’s plans for dividing up $50,000 in accommodations-tax money.
The opposition to both proposals was first signaled by councilman Albert Davis III of Hartsville, who early in council’s May 2 session said he wanted a bigger pay raise for county employees – 5 percent, not the 3 percent in the budget draft.
Davis also called for revisions of everything on the list of recommendations for “A-tax” funds – “All of it.”
The budget plan for fiscal 2022-23 was about to receive the second of three “yes” votes it needed for passage. It failed to advance on a 4-4 tie vote. Voting to accept the draft budget: David Coker, Dannie Douglas, chairman Bobby Hudson and Le Flowers. Voting no: Davis, Joyce Thomas, Kirk Askins and Angie Stone Godbold.
That sends the budget back one step to “first reading” status again, casting into doubt proposals for a 3 percent raise for all county employees and a tax increase of 4.4 mills, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $15 or $16 more in taxes per year.
As for the “A-tax” proposals, all the recommendations proposed by the county’s “A-tax” committee may now be in question. County Council has scheduled a May 12 work session to talk about the budget and how to spend accommodations tax funds.
Davis said the “A-tax” recommendations are unfair to the county’s smaller towns, Lamar and Society Hill, because they favor Hartsville and Darlington. Towns, agencies and groups use “A-tax” money to promote their areas with events like festivals.
“I’m not knocking the accommodations-tax committee,” Davis said. “I appreciate your hard work. I’ll say it again: We’re just coming out of a pandemic. This year, give each one a little more. That’s all I’m asking.”
“Let’s not, this time, overlook the small people, or the people who are trying to do something,” Davis said.
Councilman David Coker defended the “A-tax” committee: “They do their work. They look at it. They don’t just do it quickly. They dive into it, and see what’s presented. … I’m not saying we shouldn’t give the ABC Festival wherever more money, but we can help them with other money. Accommodations-tax money is, or was, specifically for ‘heads in beds.’ We can help those kinds of festivals, Christmas parades, whatever they are, with other monies.”
“I still would go with what (the committee members) say,” Coker said. “We can modify it slightly, maybe … but I would hate to overdo everything. I think that’s a slippery slope. We’re going to get people on the accommodations-tax committee who are going to say, ‘Ah, I don’t want to do that anymore’” if all their suggestions are ignored.
Here are some examples of the “A-tax” committee’s recommendations:
— $13,500 for the Hartsville Chamber of Commerce’s visitor-information center.
— $300 for Lamar’s Christmas parade (the town requested $2,500).
— $500 for the Darlington Veterans Memorial ($2,000 had been requested).
— $500 for the Lamar Egg Scramble ($4,500 was requested).
— $300 for the Society Hill Catfish Festival ($3,000 was requested).
— $500 for the Terrence Carraway Foundation ($20,000 was requested).
— $20,000 for the Hartsville Community Center Building Commission for operating Hartsville’s Center Theatre.
At one point in the discussion, councilman Le Flowers proposed taking $4,000 out of Hartsville-area “A-tax” funding and splitting it between Lamar and Society Hill. Ultimately, council voted 5-3 to carry over the “A-tax” debate until a later meeting. Voting to carry over the issue: Coker, Thomas, Davis, Godbold, Douglas. Voting no: Hudson, Askins, Flowers.
On the issue of the budget, council member Angie Stone Godbold suggested that, instead of giving employees across-the-board raises, council might award raises in a more selective way, such as starting with certain lower pay grades, or awarding raises based on performance, or awarding bonuses. “I just think it should be tied to something,” Godbold said of a pay raise for county employees.
She also said that, to her, increasing taxes is pushing “an ‘Easy’ button,” and that alternatives ought to be considered. “There are places to cut some expenses,” she said. “There’s no way we’re this lean. That would give our economic-development (team) time to bring in industry and create revenue versus just trying to raise taxes to get the revenue.”
In other business, council gave final approval to a slate of four “fee-in-lieu-of-taxes” agreements with four companies still concealed by their “code names” – in this case, Project Scarlet II, Project Jefferson II, Project Fairfield II and Project Bell II. These “FILOT” agreements attract businesses to the county by giving them a break on property taxes for a certain length of time.

Author: Stephan Drew

Share This Post On

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Posts Remaining