By GEORGE SALSBERRY
Uncertainty has been a routine hurdle when Colleton County government officials work on a budget.
In the past fiscal years, the uncertainty was primarily generated by economic recessions and trying get a handle on the level of state funding that comes from Columbia.
This year’s work to build the county’s 2020-2021 budget amid Covid-19 has taken uncertainty to a whole new level.
Colleton County Administrator Kevin Griffin, Chief Financial Officer Jon Carpenter and the other county officials laboring to put together the next budget basically are using the Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on county finances year as a template.
Carpenter appeared before Colleton County Council at the April 26 session with projections on how the pandemic affected county finances in the last fiscal quarter of the 2019-2020 budget year.
He later updated the numbers for the fourth quarter (the months of April, May and June) in a September report.
In fiscal year 2019-2020, Covid-19 impacted the general fund revenues by approximately $425,000 and approximately $125,000 more in the county’s other funds. The total lost revenue represents about two percent of the county’s total budget.
On the expenditure side of the equation, the county experienced $310,000 in unforeseen pandemic-related expenses — about 1.1 percent of the general fund budget.
In comparison, the April tornado generated expenses of $444,815 for the county. The bulk of that expense was related to the emergency response on the morning of April 13, as well as debris removal and disposal efforts that were completed in August.
The county expense related to the damage to the Buckner building from the tornado is not included in the above since council expects that a grant will cover most of the expense of demolishing the building.
County officials were able to absorb those losses to close out a balanced 2019-2020 budget.
When Carpenter assessed the county’s finances in light of Covid-19, he found that property tax collections, the county’s largest revenue generator, was virtually unaffected by the pandemic for the previous fiscal year.
However, revenue dropped in a number of other sources because of the pandemic.
The local option sales tax that acts as a property tax offset experienced a 20 percent decrease in the fourth quarter collections reflecting a loss of $95,000.
Because the county’s court system was shut down in the fourth quarter, the county’s revenue in that area dropped $199,000 below anticipated revenue for the 2020 fiscal year.
County permitting, fees and fines in other areas showed a $25,000 loss of revenue.
Covid-19’s closure of the county’s recreation facilities and the cancellation of baseball and softball seasons resulted in another a revenue loss of $95,000.
The closure of the Colleton Museum and Farmers Market cost the county a total of $109,000 in revenue.
In March, the county’s hospitality tax was running 1.5 percent above the previous year’s collection and the county’s admissions tax was 3.8 percent above the 2019 fiscal year collection.
Both percentages dropped in the fourth quarter. The hospitality tax dropped eight percent and the admissions tax dropped 12 percent. That pandemic-caused decrease resulted in revenue losses of $70,250 in the hospitality tax and $55,200 in the admissions tax.
As work began on this fiscal year budget, Griffin explained South Carolina’s counties have taken several different paths in formulating their annual budget in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some went ahead and approved a budget before the original July 1 deadline with plans to revisit their finances again when the full effect of the pandemic was determined.
Colleton County officials took a different path, approving a resolution for the county to continue to pay expenses in the early months of the current fiscal year until county officials had a better handle on the pandemic’s effect on county finances could be determined.
The first continuing resolution was set to expire when October arrived. County officials expected the state legislature would have its budget worked out by then.
The state officials tried to build a budget in September but decided they needed more time and passed a resolution to delay the state budget until January.
County officials had a continuing resolution delaying their budget work under until January.
Previously, Griffin said the county officials currently expect to have to cope with a shortfall of between $800,000 and $1 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the bulk of that shortfall caused by Covid-19 effect on the county’s revenue stream.
Carpenter said that in his 20 years working in public and private sector finances, he has never had to try to formulate a budget amid this much uncertainty.