AP NEWS

Aiken County Council starts its review of proposed 2019-2020 budget; Bunker optimistic

May 16, 2019

Gary Bunker was optimistic after Aiken County Council held its first work session Tuesday on the county’s proposed fiscal year 2019-2020 budget.

Prepared by County Administrator Clay Killian and his staff, the draft includes the first increase in property taxes since 2017.

The millage rate used to calculate them would go up from 68.5 mills to 71.6 mills.

Bunker, who is County Council’s chairman, had vowed previously that the panel would do “everything possible” to reduce the recommended increase or “eliminate it altogether.”

And he said he believed that was an achievable goal after County Council completed its review of projected General Fund revenues and started looking at estimated General Fund expenditures Tuesday.

“I think it can be done,” said Bunker while being interviewed in Council Chambers at the Aiken County Government Center. “The other thing we would also like to do is try to have a small across-the-board raise for our county employees.”

While examining revenues for the General Fund, which provides money for the county’s day-to-day operating expenses, County Council discovered some items that possibly could be adjusted.

“We learned tonight we have several opportunities to wring a little more revenue out of the proposed budget,” Bunker said. “We definitely saw potential for that in interest from financial assets, possibly building inspection permits, RMC (Register of Mesne Conveyance) fees and equipment and property sales.”

On the expenditure side, there could be a potential reduction in the cost of health insurance because of a self-funding plan that has been implemented.

That “wasn’t dialed in” when the proposed 2019-2020 budget was prepared, Bunker said.

“We just need to try to get a little more data to see if we can reduce some of that expenditure,” he added.

The next 2019-2020 budget work session will be held following County Council’s 7 p.m. meeting May 21 at the Government Center.

Bunker believes at least two more budget work sessions will be needed after that for Council to identify and scrutinize all of the options on which it will base any decisions about revising the proposed financial plan.

“We have to look at the rest of the General Fund expenditures over the next couple of work sessions,” Bunker said. “Then, in the fourth work session, we will have to review all these dozens of other funds, which play into it, albeit in an indirect manner.

“That’s where it will get real complicated,” he continued. “Some of those funds you can manipulate, so that’s why we have to be very disciplined and just keep going through all of these different items to see what we can find.”

By law, the county must have a balanced budget.

Killian and his staff set both the revenue and the expenditures for the 2019-2020 General Fund budget 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.

In addition to the millage rate hike, the draft budget includes increases in the county road maintenance fee and the 911 landline tariff on telephones.

During its May 7 meeting, County Council voted unanimously to approve the first reading of an ordinance to establish the 2019-2020 budget.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

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