Pay raises, tax hike back on track for county
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
Darlington County’s plan for a 3 percent employee pay raise and a relatively small property-tax hike is back on track for eventual approval by County Council.
In a work session May 12, council agreed to return the working budget for fiscal year 2022-23 to council’s agenda, where it will have to start over again after being sidelined May 2 by a divided County Council.
During council’s last regular meeting, the new budget was about to get the second of three “yes” votes that it needed for passage. But it was stopped on a 4-4 tie vote amid suggestions that the employee pay raise should be bigger, perhaps as much as 5 percent, and concerns that the allocation of accommodations-tax money wasn’t fair.
During that earlier meeting, councilman Albert Davis III of Hartsville wanted changes in “all” of a committee’s recommendations for dividing up $50,000 in accommodations-tax money. At least some allocations were revised in a new version of the recommendations seen by council May 12, but Davis told the News & Press he needed more time to study the changes before he could say whether the whole package was more fair now.
The county’s budget plan will have to start over at first-reading status, but after discussing the budget with County Administrator Charles Stewart, council seemed to be ready to accept the spending plan as written. On May 2, four of the eight council members rejected the budget plan, causing a tie vote that halted its progress.
As written, the new budget calls 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.
Stewart told council last week that the only way to give employees a bigger pay raise would be to raise millage rates higher than the new budget already does, because there is basically no fat to cut in next year’s budget.
In council’s May 2 meeting, council member Angie Stone Godbold suggested that the county should think more in terms of performance raises, bonuses or raises tied to pay grades, rather than across-the-board raises. Last week, Stewart said things like merit raises could get tangled up in “personnel issues.”
On the tax hike, Stewart said the county doesn’t increase taxes very often. “We have not gone to the well every year,” he said.