County officials talk budget, 2017 looking positive | News | The Press and Standard

by | April 28, 2017 5:00 am

Last Updated: April 26, 2017 at 3:57 pm

By GEORGE SALSBERRY

gsalsberry@lowcountry.com

When it comes to county finances, the story remains the same. Any good news on the revenue side is generated locally, any bad news on the expenditure side tends to come out of Columbia.

Colleton County Administrator Kevin Griffin began Friday afternoon’s Colleton County Council’s budget workshop with an overview of where the county stands fiscally.

Griffin told council members that the county’s property tax is trending upward.

The county’s 2016-2017 budget estimated that property taxes would generate $13,569,037. Griffin said that the actual property tax collection for the current fiscal year stands at $14,010,933.

“That is telling us that the real estate market is coming back,” Griffin said. It is also an indicator, he added, that work the county has done on industrial development “is coming onto the (tax) rolls. We are starting to see some positive growth there finally.”

Griffin pointed out it usually takes two years for the revenue benefits of new employer to show up in the tax rolls.

Griffin also informed the council that the county’s tax on motor vehicles is also on the rise. By the end of March, he reports, the actual revenue from the motor vehicle tax stood at $1,157,277.

The county still has three months of motor vehicle tax collections before the current fiscal year ends on June 30.

In the 2016-2017 budget, the county officials estimated revenue from that source at $1,350,000. When the current budget is closed out, Griffin expects collections of the motor vehicle tax “will beat that number as well.”

Because of the upward trend, Griffin said that the county, in the next budget, is projecting $14,294,208 in property tax collection and $1,470,190 in motor vehicle tax collection.

Both estimates, he added, are conservative.

In conversations about the coming fiscal year and property tax revenue projects with Colleton County Chief Financial Officer Jon Carpenter and Colleton County Assessor Thomas Hill, Griffin said, Hill suggested that the tax collection could see a growth of between two percent and four percent. Hill gave that estimate because of the rebounding housing market and the fact that the county will conduct a property reassessment in the next fiscal year.

The revenue project for property tax in the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget will reflect a two-percent growth factor. “We wanted to stay conservative.”

The result of a careful monitoring of county government’s health care programs by the county Human Resources and Risk Management Departments, Griffin said, has led to a significant projected reduction in the county’s health care costs for the next fiscal year.

The funds generated for the county from its Fee-In-Lieu-of-Taxes multi-county agreement with Charleston County, Griffin said,  continues to grow.

The continued expansion of the Boeing operations in North Charleston and the construction of a new Mercedes plant in Charleston area, he explained, have resulted in the multi-county agreement with Charleston being amended three times in the past year. Each amendment has added new properties to the economic development area covered by the multi-county agreement.

Because council was holding its budget workshop in the teaching kitchen of the Colleton Museum, Farmers Market and Commerical Kitchen complex, Griffin said that he wanted council to note that the Commercial Kitchen is doing extremely well. The county in the last budget projected revenues of $130,000. When the fiscal year ends, he said, the kitchen is expected to show revenue of nearly $225,000.

“We have been having a good year,” Commercial Kitchen Manager Matt Mardell told county council. “Next year is going to be even better.”

Mardell said that in January, the kitchen had five users. In the first three months of 2017, the number of enterprises using the commercial kitchen had grown to 10 and more potential kitchen users are going through the process of securing all their necessary permits and certifications to begin manufacturing food products at the kitchen facillty.

“Things are really starting to hop,” Griffin added.

One the expenditure side of the fiscal balancing act, Griffin said,  “obviously the state retirement pension is one of the major factors in the budget we are dealing with this year.”

The state legislature, seeking a way to deal with a shortfall in the state’s pension system, is currently looking at a corrective measure that would mandate increases in the funds both local governments and the employees in the pension system are charged.

Griffin said the two percent increase the state officials are currently debating, will cost the county an additional $550,000.

Another state mandate that requires sheriff’s offices and local law enforcement departments to convert to E-ticket technology, Griffin told council, is going to translate into another $180,000 expense.

Under the state plan, Griffin said, “The paper ticket process would go away completely.”

After hearing from Griffin, county council voted to go into a marathon executive session to discuss a wide variety of budget topics involving personnel and individual department and office requests.

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