During their final monthly meeting of the year, members of the Summerville Town council approved the budget for 2019, including a tax increase for public safety costs.
Out of the 28 positions requested by department heads, the budget funds 12 positions including; a benefits coordinator, economic development/annexation coordinator, four police officers, a fire and life safety coordinator, three firefighters, a IT communications officer and a facilities manager for the Armory.
The operating budget is $35.5 million for the general fund and includes a property tax increase equating to $27.20 on a home valued at $200,000.
Out of an operating budget of $35.5 million for the general fund, Finance Director Belinda Harper said town employees will receive a 2 percent cost of living salary adjustment.
The largest capital items include $622,734 for 14 police vehicles, $350,000 for sidewalks and $1 million for road maintenance. These items will be funded through use of fund balance.
Stormwater is a special revenue fund separate from the general fund with total revenues and expenditures just over $1.2 million.
Councilwoman Christine Czarnik offered an amendment to strike the economic development position from the proposed budget.
“Our administrative department has grown at a pace far larger than any other department,” Czarnik said. “We had a similar position, an annexation coordinator a few years ago and we had no results from that position.”
Mayor Wiley Johnson seconded the motion.
“I really believe we need to work closer with the county’s economic development coordinator,” Johnson said. “We may be a little bit premature to have our own economic development coordinator, I haven’t really seen that this is something that would be an advantage to us more than what we’re already doing.”
Councilman Aaron Brown said he thinks Summerville needs the economic development position because “Summerville is a fast growing town.”
Brown said the areas around Summerville are booming and the town is competing with surrounding municipalities for economic development opportunities.
“We could possibly miss the boat on the next 10 to 20 years if we don’t have someone focused on economics to help the town grow,” Brown said.
Brown said the town has thrived on residential growth for years.
“What’s the problem with residential growth?” Brown asked. “Most of the homes that we service don’t pay us enough in taxes to take care of the services we provide. Businesses pay more taxes than individuals and so we need to try and attract as many businesses as we can so that we can help them carry the burden of this town.”
Brown said Czarnik made some good points about the fact that the town did not get the yield that it wanted from the annexation coordinator, but he said he thinks it’s very important for the town to keep up with the growth happening.
“We need some expert help in these areas to help us seize the tide and ride the wave,” Brown said.
Councilwoman Kima Garten-Schmidt said she thinks the economic development position is a great position that is worth filling and looking how it goes for the first year.
“I think that this will be an asset to our town, I think we really need it because of our growth here.” Garten-Schmidt said.
Councilman Bill McIntosh said he doesn’t support the budget because it includes a property tax increase.
“The rationale that we’re raising mills to pay for public safety just doesn’t hold water form me if we’re going to add new positions that are not public safety related,” McIntosh said. “It’s not that I don’t think that we have a need for economic development or annexation coordination, it’s that logically this is being funded by a tax increase… therefore I support Mrs. Czarniks’ motion.”
Czarnik said voting in favor of her motion “doesn’t mean there will be no economic development activities within the town.”
“This title exists within the town right now and has for many years,” Czarnik said.
The motion failed with a vote of 3-4.
Czarnik said the proposed budget includes an increase in the millage rate for public safety but still public safety isn’t fully funded within the current revenues on the budget.
“We’ve got vehicle replacement coming out of fund balance, which in essence is money left over from prior years,” Czarnik said. “There isn’t always going to be money left over from prior years but we are going to need to be replacing a certain number of vehicles every single year. I just think it’s fiscally irresponsible to continue to count on an excess of prior year revenues to cover your current year expenses.”
Councilman Walter Bailey said “this budget is complicated, it’s long, it’s involved and there are bound to be things that all of us don’t like about it and some things we do like about it.”
“We have to look at the budget as a whole and we have to pass a budget by law this year,” Bailey said. “I think overall it’s an exceedingly good budget.”
Brown said the town is fiscally responsible by making sure the citizens are safe. He said he supports the economic development position because if the town wants to reduce taxes in the future, “we better get some more businesses coming into Summerville because the businesses pay a whole lot more taxes.”
Councilman Bob Jackson said in the Oakbrook area the town has lost some “really big” opportunities because the town was slow to react and didn’t have anybody to move those opportunities forward.
Johnson said the council itself “has not had enough input into the budget” and that created a problem.
“We’ve had at least five different chance to make amendments to this budget, to change things around,” Johnson said.
He said one of the things he “dearly” wanted to do was have more of a pyramid type raise system to bring people making under $30,000 a year up to “a little bit higher wage.”
“As it is, we’re going to have across the board percentage raises and I don’t think it’s fair,” Johnson said.
Brown said the budget has a two percent increase for everybody.
“We should not pit the higher level employees against the lower level employees, this is bad for public policy,” Brown said. “We treat all of our employees fairly and we are trying to be even more fair with them.”
McIntosh said part of the confusion or misunderstanding about the cost of living adjustments is that in the past the council was giving people cost of living adjustments but there was zero inflation at that time.
“This year’s budget we have a two percent across the board cost of living adjustment and I think it’s absolutely necessary for all of our employees,” McIntosh said. “Why? Because the cost of living is going up at least two percent if not more. We’re in inflationary times for the first time in a decade.”
McIntosh said he supports the cost of living adjustments including in the budget.
A vote to approve the town’s budget for fiscal year 2019 passed 4-3. Johnson, Czarnik and McIntosh opposed. To view the 2019 budget: https://bit.ly/2zY2XtM