Tax hikes built into county budget

by | August 23, 2018 5:00 am

Last Updated: August 22, 2018 at 11:25 am

Colleton County property owners will see their real estate tax bills going up in two areas after members of Colleton County Council approved the fiscal year 2018-2019 budget during its Aug. 14 session.
As part of the budget, council members enacted a property tax increase of one and one-half mills for general operations. Another section of the budget ordinance increases the fee for solid waste services from $65 to $75.
The millage increase translates into a $6 increase for a home valued at $100,000, plus the $10 solid waste increase (for all properties regardless of value), for a total of $16 in additional taxes.
When the members of the Colleton County School Board give their final approval to the school district’s 2018-2019 budget, taxpayers will see their property taxes going up in a third area. The budget council members approved Aug. 14 signs off on the school district’s increase of its property taxes by three mills. (Members of the Colleton County Council have to approve any tax hike for the school district.)
The state requires that all governmental entities have their fiscal year budgets in place by July 1 or approve a sustaining budget to keep the governmental entities in operation if the budgets cannot be completed by the end of June. Both the school district and county government joined county governments and school districts across the state in approving a continuing budget resolution.
They were not able to finish their budgets in a timely manner because the state legislature didn’t completed its work on the state budget and the level of state funding for county governments and school districts had not been finalized. The legislature’s work on the state budget wasn’t finished until the end of June, making it impossible to have the school district and county government finish building their budget and getting it approved before July 1.
Both the school district and county drafted proposed budgets that were based on conservative projections of what the state legislators might do.
The county government’s proposed budget envisioned a property tax increase of one and one-half mills; the proposed school district contained a property tax increase for general operations of four and fourth-tenths mills.
After the state legislatures finished its budget, local school districts found additional money was allocated to school financing that enabled the school district to scale back its millage increase to three mills.
The school board was scheduled to meet on Aug. 21 to approve the 2018-2019 budget; they had had to wait until the county council approved their budget.
While the state legislators approved a budget that offered some fiscal relief to school districts, the same help was not there for the state’s county governments: the one-and-a-half mill increase Colleton County proposed had to stay in place.
Colleton County Administrator Kevin Griffin offered county council members an analysis of the county’s budget during a June 11 budget workshop that spelled out the need for the tax increase.
The county, he explained, was projecting additional revenue of $359,773 in the next fiscal year. The 2018-2019 fiscal year General Fund budget stands at $24,192,080, a three-percent increase over the previous year.
At the same time, Griffin added, 76 percent of that additional revenue will be eaten up by two unfunded state mandates — the state informed county officials that the county will face an 8.1 percent increase in employer health insurance, $104,425, as well as a one-percent increase in its state retirement payment, $170,315.
County officials said the proposed increase in the county’s General Fund millage by 1.5 mills will generate additional revenue equaling the $274,000 in state-mandated increases.
The $10 increase in the solid waste fee that appears on the tax bill, Griffin said, seeks to address a number of problems in the operation of the county’s solid waste disposal operations.
“We are having some serious issues with the construction and demolition landfill,” Griffin said.
The C and D landfill still has between 10 and 12 years of useful life, “if we take good care of it,” Griffin said.
But they have not been able to provide needed care, due to the heavy rains that the county has experienced in the last few years. In the past month, 10 inches of rain have fallen on the solid waste landfill site. The heavy rains have washed out the ravines and carried away the seeds of the plants the county was trying to grow on the covered mounds of debris to stabilize them.
The county is working with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to address the problem and Colleton County Engineer Carla Harvey is in the process of designing a solution to reslope and stabilize the banks to get something growing on them.
Then there is the solid waste department’s compactor. It is 10 years old and needs to be replaced. In fact it isn’t working at all, and the county will be leasing a compactor for the next two months.
Then there is the county’s recycling program — it has stopped working too. The outlets the county used to handle its recycled items have been drying up. “There is no value in it now,” Griffin explained.
While contemplating the increase in solid waste fees, county officials contacted officials in surrounding counties to find out what their residents are paying.
Colleton County had the lowest fee of the counties who responded to the request. (They never heard back from Allendale and Hampton counties.)
The fees in the other counties ranged from $70 in Bamberg County to $172 in Charleston County. On average, the residents in other local counties were paying $92.25.

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