Friday, June 13, 2014
Dorchester County Council passed the county’s 2014-2015 fiscal year budget during its June 16 meeting.
This year’s budget, funded at the same millage level as last year’s, comes in slightly higher at about $44.2 million and includes some $3.8 million in capital improvement fund expenses and $3.3 million in debt service expenses.
The General Fund Budget saw several amendments proposed and passed, none of which changed either total expenditures or revenue. Some of these amendments included authorizing some $56,000 for a Capital Projects Manager; authorizing the transfer of the Budget Officer and $65,422 from the Budget and Finance Department to the County Administrator’s Office and renaming the Budget and Finance Department the Finance Department; transferring Transport Officers and some $188,000 from the Sheriff’s Office budget to the Detention budget; and decreasing funding to the Charleston Regional Devlopment Alliance by $123,000 as well as decreasing funding to the Medically Indigent Assistance Fund by about $43,000.
For the seventh year in a row, the state legislature is decreasing funds allocated to the Local Government Fund. Dorchester County’s share remains the same as fiscal year 2013-2014 at $5.16 million, leaving the county funded at about 73 percent of what it should be according to state statute, officials noted.
That means a number of requests – about another $4.4 million -- simply could not be funded in this year’s budget. These included a little over $2.5 million in new position requests and $1.8 million in operating requests. Significant items not funded this year include two new dispatchers, four new deputies, two new 12-hour medic shifts, and a 1.9 percent salary increase for county employees.
Another $6 million in Capital Fund requests will also have to remain on the back burner for now, noted council members and staff.
“All of these requests come on the heels of another year of being underfunded by the state,” Council Chairman Bill Hearn said. “I think we’ve done the best we can given the situation – seven years of being underfunded is adding up.”
Hearn did note, however, that the legislature, which had originally planned to cut local funding by some $2.2 million, revised that number to $1.83 million.
“We are grateful for and appreciative of that,” Hearn said.
Council Vice Chair George Bailey said he believes the legislature understands the gravity of the situation local governments face and will be more responsive in the future.
“I think things are going to change,” he said.
The county does have a number of capital projects it will be undertaking, most notably the new detention center, the bids for which are to be opened June 19, County Administrator Jason Ward told council during a final budget retreat June 12. With those projects coming on line in the coming year, staff is recommending that the county hire a Capital Projects Manager.
“This position would manage building projects and assist with Capital Improvements planning, budgeting, and estimating,” Ward said.
Other projects include storm water projects, including work currently under way in the Archdale neighborhood.
Other efforts include public education initiatives, building relationships with private property owners to secure permission to access properties not owned by the county to continue debris removal efforts and improve drainage, and undertaking a major study of problems and issues associated with Polk Swamp, near St. George.
The county is also seeking a solution for parking at the EMS Headquarters Building on U.S. 78 in Summerville. With construction on the site of the Alston Middle School property slated to begin in the near future, the county will lose parking on that property, Deputy Administrator Ashley Jacobs said.
Council did approve a small millage increase for the Dorchester County Library budget of .2 mills, which adds about $99,000 to its budget to help cover operating expenses; Council also approved a $200,000 cash advance ahead of tax collections to prevent negative cash flow.
Council did not approve a proposed 6.3 millage increase for the Dorchester School District 2.