AP NEWS

$38 million budget moves forward in Darlington County

May 7, 2019

DARLINGTON, S.C. – The Darlington County Council gave preliminary approval Monday to an ordinance adopting a budget package for the coming fiscal year totaling more than $38.1 million.

The package includes a proposed general fund budget of more than $23.6 million and nine so-called minor fund budgets totaling nearly $14.5 million.

The council held a public hearing on the budget before the vote on second reading.

The unanimous vote came during the council’s regular meeting.

In its present form, the total budget package would require a property tax increase of 0.81 mills for all of the budgets together. County Administrator Charles Stewart said in April that the increase will generate approximately $160,000 in new revenue and would add $3.24 to the property tax bill on an owner-occupied home with an appraised value of $100,000. A rental home of the same appraised value would see an increase of $4.86 because it is taxed at a 6 percent rate rather than the 4 percent rate on owner-occupied homes, he said.

Under the Consumer Price Index (CPI) cap of 2.44 percent, the county could increase millage by 2.2775 mills. The increase sought is 35 percent of the increase allowable under the CPI cap, Stewart said.

The proposed general fund budget includes a 2 percent across-the-board employee cost of living adjustment (COLA), Stewart said. It also includes a 4 percent or 6.5 percent wage increase in lieu of the 2 percent COLA in targeted employment positions where specific needs are demonstrated, he said.

Stewart noted that the 2 percent COLA is less than the 2.44 percent CPI increase.

Employee positions targeted for the 4 percent increase include correctional officer-certified-hourly positions at the rank of sergeant or below at the W. Glenn Campbell Detention Center and the Darlington County Prison Farm, according to Stewart.

Also targeted for the 4 percent increase are Darlington County Emergency Medical Services emergency medical technician certified hourly positions assigned to ambulances and Darlington County Environmental Services and Roads and Bridges department positions requiring a licensed CDL driver, Stewart said.

The 6.5 percent increase targets Darlington County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement-certified-hourly positions currently below the rank of lieutenant, he said.

Adjustments in health insurance costs, FICA, retirement, unemployment and workers compensation expenses are also projected in the general fund budget, he said.

Expense increases are expected in the employer retirement mandatory contribution rate and a number of increases are expected in various insurance premium line items, incentive pay and salary wage line items from changes in employment of variable employees with variable insurance selections, Stewart said. The retirement contribution cost is expected to increase by $140,000 in fiscal 2020 to $409,000. The cost by fiscal 2023 is projected to rise to almost $2.8 million, according to Stewart.

Variations are also projected in departmental budgets based on professional service, annual software maintenance contracts, cyclic needs and changes in departmental obligations, he said.

Other increases include a pay increase for council members approved by the council last year, additional funding for an assistant administrator position and an additional position in the finance department, according to Stewart.

The proposed budget also includes planned utility cost increases from Duke Energy Progress’ proposed rate increases and planned Insurance Reserve Fund increases, he said. An increase for voter registration and elections is also projected because the county is required to handle two municipal elections in 2019 and the presidential primaries in 2020 from the fiscal 2020 budget, Stewart said.

An increase in the Darlington County Treasurer’s Office reflects a previously approved position for handling DMV files and driver license suspensions for failure to pay dealer notice property taxes on vehicles, he said.

The budget reflects a transition from a contract to a new fleet management system and a new vehicle leasing plan, according to Stewart.

Initial new lease payments for 30 vehicles already ordered for the sheriff’s office ($283,200) and 20 vehicles either ordered or planned for all other agencies ($149,800) totaling $433,000 annually is included in the budget without the use of any of $1.5 million of fund balance set aside for the project over the next three to five years, Stewart said.

The proposed minor funds budgets reflect some of the same increases, such as pay adjustments, utility costs and insurance costs, Stewart said.

Those include the emergency telephone budget of $623,754. That is less than the current year’s budget because of less-planned upgrade expenses in the coming fiscal year compared to the current fiscal year and the previous year.

Others include the library fund at $1,474,951, the environmental services fund at $2,833,500, the Darlington County Fire District fund at $2,368,850, the accommodations tax fund at $92,500, the Darlington County Airport fund at $257,927, the Roads and Bridges fund at $1,730,000, the emergency services fund at $4,587,031 and the hospitality tax fund at $35,000.