County’s early budget plan holds the line
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
Darlington County’s early budget plan for the next fiscal year holds the line: No tax increases, no fee increases, no pay raises for county employees. “I don’t have any (pay) increase in this budget. It will not fit,” county administrator Charles Stewart told County Council during an April 7 work session reviewing Stewart’s initial budget plan for fiscal 2021-22, which council will debate during the next couple of months. “It just wasn’t possible without a tax increase,” Stewart told council. “And I am very well aware that this may not be the year to be talking about a tax increase.” However, Stewart said it might be possible for the county to give employees a one-time bonus, perhaps using federal funds meant to help local governments through the COVID-19 crisis. Budget season is just beginning for local governments, even as a year of COVID-19 suffering seems to be lifting. Local governments such as Darlington County’s must pass a new budget by June 30, the end of this fiscal year. The 2021-22 fiscal year begins July 1. Darlington County is just starting the budget debate, but Stewart’s proposals recommend no tax increases, no fee increases, and, at this point, essentially no pay raises. The current county budget is $24 million. Stewart’s proposals project a $24.6 million budget for next fiscal year, with some of the additional money coming from “a slight increase” in tax revenues resulting from higher assessments of some property within the county. Next fiscal year, Stewart said, the county will have to pony up 1 percent more in employer contributions imposed by the State Retirement System. The county treasurer’s office will need an extra $5,000 for “service tech” fees and postage fees, “as more transactions have begun to occur by mail.” The Darlington County Sheriff’s Office, Stewart said, will need “significant increases” caused by a plan to raise wages within that agency (but not others) and because of the additional money that must go to the State Retirement System and higher health-insurance costs. Reviewing county spending over the past several years, Stewart told council: “You’ve been extremely conservative.” Council has raised taxes in some budget years, “but you haven’t done a major increase,” he said. Although the county would like to offer all employees a 2 percent “cost-of-living adjustment,” or COLA, there would be tax consequences, Stewart said. A 2 percent COLA for all county employees would mean a 2-mill increase in property taxes, he said, and a 1 percent COLA would mean a 1-mill increase.