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Florence County budget has tax increase

Matthew ChristianMay 19, 2019

FLORENCE, S.C. – Property taxes will be slightly increasing in Florence County beginning July 1.

As passed upon second reading by the Florence County Council, the 2019-20 fiscal year budget calls for an increase of 1.5 mills, from 77.3 to 78.8, to fund a 1% increase, about $291,000, in the employer contributions of the South Carolina Retirement System and the Police Officer Retirement System, a $50,000 increase in the county’s share of health insurance premiums, and raise for deputies and detention center employees of the Florence County Sheriff’s Office which will cost about $650,000.

The 1% increase in state retirement benefits was mandated by the Retirement System Funding and Administration Act of 2017. The act was signed into law by Gov. Henry McMaster on April 28, 2017.

County Administrator K.G. “Rusty” Smith told the council’s administration and finance committee at a meeting in March that he had been working on the insurance premium increase. The figure asked for initially, he said, was substantially higher than the $50,000 figure included in the budget.

The justice and public safety committee of the council was provided three options for deputy pay raises: a $2.3 million increase proposed by Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone funded by a tax increase that would be difficult to implement under the current state law, a lower salary increase which would total $1 million which has a similar problem under state law, or the $650,000 plan.

The committee, headed by Councilman H. Steven DeBerry IV, recommended the $650,000 plan. The administration and finance committee concurred with that recommendation at its March meeting.

Then, at the April meeting of the county council, several deputies and detention center employees appeared before council to ask for detention center employees to be included, meaning everyone would get a small raise instead of a larger one for the deputies.

The county council agreed to use this option. That means $275,005 of the $650,000 will be used to fund detention center pay raises with the remainder going to deputies.

Florence County is limited in the amount it can increase its property tax millage in a given year due to Act 388 of 2006. That act uses a formula based upon the consumer price index and the population growth as determined by the Census Bureau.

Several members of the council have expressed frustration with the act, saying they would love to give the deputies raises but cannot due to the act.

Florence-Darlington Tech millage increase

The 2019-20 fiscal year budget also includes 9.8 mills to fund the county’s share of Florence-Darlington Technical College’s operations.

Normally, the county levies a rate of 4.9 mills, which raises about $2.35 million for the college. However, a mistake in the auditor’s office allowed some tax notices to be mailed that did not include the rate for the college.

The county council decided, upon the recommendation of Smith, County Attorney D. Malloy McEachin Jr., Treasurer Laurie Carpenter, Auditor H. Wayne Joye, and and Finance Director Kevin Yokim to provide a loan using reserve funds to pay for the college. In order to repay the loan, the county will levy double the rate this year.

The county has also enacted a new policy in which tax notices are reviewed by the auditor, treasurer, assessor, and finance director before they are mailed.

Solid waste household availability fee increase

The county’s solid waste availability fee is also being increased this year. The second reading of the budget calls for an increase of $4.75 for a total fee of $29.75 to fund a recycling fee of $102.76 per ton being charged to the county by Waste Management.

On average over the past four years, the county has generated 1,360 tons of recyclables, necessitating an increase of $140,000 to the county’s landfill budget. The solid waste fee was increased to increase the landfill budget.

Fire district debt mill decrease

Residents of the county will see some relief on their property tax bills.

According to the ordinance presented on second reading, the Florence Fire District debt mills will be decreasing from 7.4 mills in the 2018-19 fiscal year to 4.4 mills in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

EMS bill write-offs

The ordinance presented upon second reading also includes an EMS bill write-off of $1.225 million.

Spending

The revenue earned by the county will be divided between 21 different funds.

The ordinance presented upon second reading has a general fund budget of $62.676 million, a fire and first responder fund budget of $6.88 million, a debt service fund budget of $5.676 million, a fire and first responder debt fund budget of $1.025 million, an economic development capital fund budget of $3.017 million, a local accommodations tax fund budget of $2.971 million, a local hospitality tax fund budget of $1.666 million, a district infrastructure allocation fund budget of $1.171 million, a district rocking and paving fund budget of $1.613 million, a road maintenance fund budget of $4.062 million, a solid waste management fund budget of $4.383 million, and a E-911 System fund budget of $1.560 million.

In addition to the property tax mills and fees previously described, the county also charges or receives other fees that are usually required to be spent in specific areas.

For example, the E-911 system is funded through a state tax upon cellphone users, and this money is then distributed to the counties.

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