AP NEWS

Proposed county budget for 2019-2020 fiscal year includes millage rate increase

May 8, 2019

Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian delivered some sobering news to County Council during the panel’s meeting Tuesday night at the Aiken County Government Center.

He said his proposed 2019-2020 fiscal year budget for the county includes the first increase in county property taxes since 2007.

In addition, there are no salary increases for county employees.

“For the most part, this budget is status quo, at best, and it certainly doesn’t address many of our needs,” said Killian, who prepared the budget draft with the help of his staff.

The county is required by law to have a balanced budget, and to meet that requirement, “we have removed virtually every new position and program requested (by county department heads and elected officials),” Killian said.

He set the both the revenue and expenditures for the 2019-2020 General Fund, which is used for day-to-day operating expenses, at $72,048,277.

The comparable figure for 2018-2019 was $68,216,665.

The proposed total budget for 2019-2020, including all funds, is $168,698,242.

Under Killian’s financial plan, the millage rate used to calculate property taxes would increase from 68.5 mills to 71.6 mills.

In addition, Killian suggested raising the county road maintenance fee by $5 per vehicle to $25.

He also recommended increasing the 911 landline tariff on telephones from 60 cents to $1 per month.

Killian estimated that the additional cost to an owner of a $150,000 home (with a single landline telephone) and two cars valued at $25,000 apiece would be approximately $42 per year.

“We have combed through this budget perhaps more than any in recent memory and frankly could find little in the way of operations that we can reduce further, at least not without negatively impacting our services,” he said. “The task has been much more difficult this year due to our recent budgeting practice of using non-recurring dollars to balance prior year budgets.”

Those funds, including money received from the State of South Carolina to cover the costs of cleanup following a major 2014 ice storm, are no longer available.

After Killian spoke, County Council Chairman Gary Bunker expressed concern about the proposed millage rate increase.

“We sold Capital Project Sales Tax IV last November to the voters … as either CPST IV or a millage hike,” he said. “With this in mind, I am disturbed we are considering a property tax hike so soon thereafter.”

He added that “Aiken County’s low millage rate is critical for our ability to attract industrial investments. To support manufacturing and that kind of development, the millage rate is one of the few variables that County Council can control.

“The temptation to increase the millage rate to get out of this hole will only whet the appetite for greater increases in coming years,” Bunker concluded.

County Council will finalize the 2019-2020 budget and can revise Killian’s plan for it.

That process began Tuesday, when the panel voted 9-0 to approve the first reading of an ordinance to establish the budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Three readings of the ordinance are required before it can be adopted.

The panel plans to hold several budget work sessions.

The first one is scheduled for May 14.

In other action, County Council unanimously approved the following:

• The second readings of two ordinances that would provide an economic development incentive through an infrastructure credit agreement to Green Energy Biofuel LLC and Mobettah LLC.

• The third and final reading of an ordinance that would prohibit the disposal of industrial waste at landfills operated by the county.

• The third and final reading of an ordinance to grant a utility easement to the electric utility provider at Langley Pond Park near Warrenville for a project that involves the construction of a finish line tower for rowing competitions.