County faces budget challenges, underfunding

  • Friday, April 4, 2014

Taylor Griffith/Journal Scene County Administrator Jason Ward (center) and Chief Financial Officer Justin Powell (standing) discuss the upcoming budget with Dorchester County Council.

Fiscal problems may be on the horizon for Dorchester County as county officials begin planning for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

Dorchester County Council met with County Administrator Jason Ward and County Chief Financial Officer Justin Powell on March 27, to discuss the upcoming budget planning process during the Council-Administrator Budget Retreat.

As the county grows, costs increase and after facing years of underfunding from the state, the county may hit financial troubles soon if no changes are made.

The underfunding comes from the General Assembly’s Local Government Fund, a law that requires the legislature to provide 4.5 percent of the previous year’s revenue base to the local governments in the following year. The funds are split, 83.278 percent to counties and 16.722 percent to municipalities.

Since the recession, for several years, the legislature has voted to partially suspend the Local Government Fund. The State House Ways and Means Committee has funded the LGF with $182 million recurring and $30 million nonrecurring, roughly $75 million below the statutory level, Powell said.

He estimated the county will receive $5,159,218, an underfunding of $1,841,807 from what the law requires.

The underfunding may critically affect the 2014-2015 county budget and operations if not restored to the full statute in the upcoming years.

County Council recently voted to send a letter to the legislature asking they restore the fund to its full formula.

According to Powell, overall budget challenges include the merit increase or “pay for performance” program and reclassification requests.

Within the General Fund, which has an expected revenue of $44,109,443, the largest upcoming challenges are staffing requests.

In total, 56 new positions were requested and nine are requested to convert from part time to full time. The total estimated cost, including benefits, is $3,213,063.

The Capital Fund has an expected revenue of $3,749,645, with the challenge of requested new vehicles ($2,141,698) and facilities updates.

Moving forward, Ward and Powell asked Council for guidance with how to adjust tax and fee rates, employee compensation and service enhancements to make ends meet.

The next budget retreat, the Capital Improvement Planning Retreat, will take place April 10.

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