County restores animal shelter, Clemson Extension funding
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
At their June 15 meeting, Darlington County Council held second reading on the proposed $33.2 million budget for fiscal year 2015/16, prepared by county administrator Terence Arrington and staff. Council roundly congratulated Arrington and county staffers for their work, with council chair Bobby Hudson favorably comparing this year to budget cycles of the past.
“You weren’t here the past two or three years. This was a pleasure,” Hudson told Arrington.
This year the budgets for all county departments were folded into a single ordinance rather than broken out and voted on individually. This measure, Ordinance 15-21, includes a general fund of $24,163,914, an Environmental Services fund of $2,716,965, a Fire District Fund of $1,963,370, a Road Maintenance fund of $1,675,000, a County Library fund of $1,352,598, an Emergency Telephone fund of $804,966, a Hartsville Fire Protection District fund of $475,000, and a State Accommodations Tax fund of $60,525.
During two budget work sessions held June 9 and 11, council learned of two funding cuts that spurred discontent. A cut of around $50,000 was proposed for the Darlington County Animal Shelter, dropping their county funding to just over $100,000. Kathy McDonald of the Darlington County Humane Society addressed council at the June 11 work session, arguing for the necessity of this funding to cover shelter operating costs and legally required services.
Another proposed cut would end the county’s $11,470 annual contribution to the county’s Clemson Extension Service. Alma Harris, Trish DeHond, and Jennifer Boyles of Clemson Extension spoke at the June 15 meeting, outlining beneficial programs for everyone from at-risk youth to agribusiness, and they noted that should Darlington County cut their funding, ours would be the lone county in South Carolina to contribute nothing to its local Extension office. Council member Wilhelmina Johnson also spoke out in favor of funding the Clemson Extension.
Arrington later confirmed that funding for these two agencies had been restored to the budget, minus the two-percent cut levied across the board on all departments. He and interim finance director Sherman Dibble also kept revenue projections lean, using “realistic” collection estimates to shape a conservative fiscal approach for the county.
Only Johnson and fellow council member Mozella “Pennie” Nicholson voted against the budget, with Nicholson objecting to the restoration of animal shelter funding and Johnson protesting the contracting of janitorial services to a private company.
Council later approved this contract with Intercontinental Commercial Services, Inc. to provide janitorial services for the county at a savings of $89,000, mostly through eliminating several county employee positions.
In other matters, attorney Gary Finklea and a group of three homebuilders addressed council on the subject of excessive rates for residential housing permit fees, noting that a similar permit issued by Florence County can cost $3,000 more in Darlington County.
Building and Codes director Randy Evans responded that Darlington County has not seen a slowing of building since the permit fees rose last year, adding that 85 new homes have been permitted for construction since the fee change went into effect.
Council heard a presentation from Morgan Armstrong of Plan Benefit Services, Inc., outlining the procedures and potential advantages of leaving the state system and privatizing county employee health insurance. Armstrong told council of several govenmental entities, including Horry and Lexington Counties, that have seen substantial savings after changing their insurance plans, instituting wellness programs and, in some cases, opening health centers that provide medical care and prescription drugs to county employees and their dependents free of charge.
Caroline Dunlap demonstrated for council the new Darlington County Geospatial Portal, which allows easy public access to various county data, such as Tax Assessor information, Clerk of Court data, road information, and Google Streetview. To illustrate the system, Dunlap searched out an address for council member Johnson and the system instantly answered Johnson’s question about property ownership. The portal is online now at https://darco.maps.arcgis.com
Also at this meeting, council approved final reading of Ordinance 15-18, authorizing the Darlington County Board of Elections and Registration to conduct municipal elections for the Town of Lamar, at the town’s request. A similar measure authorizing the county to conduct elections for Society Hill passed second reading.
Darlington County Council scheduled a public hearing and final reading for the budget for June 22 at 6 pm in the Courthouse Annex located at 1625 Harry Byrd Hwy in Darlington.