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Council eyes $14 tax hike in new budget

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By Jenny Hartley

A $14 tax increase for the average homeowner will help fund several county agencies and a raise for county employees.

County Council met Monday to continue talking about the proposed $31 million 2008-09 budget. Council is expected to approve third and final reading of the budget at next Monday night's council meeting. Fourteen dollars is what would be added to the tax bill for a $100,000 home.

Council members received a third draft of the budget on Monday night, which included the tax increase.

The tax increase will allow the county to continue funding several county agencies:

- Counseling Services of Lancaster, $11,000

- Lancaster-Chester Disabilities and Special Needs Board, $5,000

- Catawba Mental Health, $6,000

- Lancaster County Council on Aging, $15,000

- Palmetto Citizens Against Sexual Assault, $25,000

- History Commission, $4,000

- Lancaster County Council of the Arts, $8,000

- Communities in Schools, $10,000

- Learning Institute for Tomorrow, $18,600

- Southside Literacy, $6,000

The tax increase also funds a 2.85 percent pay increase for county employees. The increase is an effort to bring some county employees up to market averages.

County Administrator Steve Willis said, according to a recent study of county salaries, many Lancaster County employees make below the minimum average for their jobs.

This is the version of the budget County Council will likely consider for final reading next week.

But Willis said the county is still waiting on new tax figures on lots or homes sold in 2007, which could add more money to the county's coffers.

Council hopes it can use this money to fund four sheriff's deputies and vehicles for them, an extra employee in the probate judge's office, two more correctional officers for the Lancaster County Detention Center, a litter crew officer, a records clerk and a new vocation program for Lancaster County Fire Service and two truck drivers for roads and bridges.

The county is also waiting for the 2007-08 fiscal year to close out, so staff can get the total figure of building permit fees for the year. Any building permit fees collected beyond $1.9 million could go towards capital projects, such as new trucks, computers, a van and trailer for the detention center, radios for the fire service and training for emergency medical workers.

If more money is available for the budget, council could amend the budget in July to add the money for additional equipment and employees, Willis said.

Council members asked Willis on Monday if there was any way to add the raises and the funds for the agencies without raising taxes.

Willis said he could look at cuts across the board, but did not recommend cuts to emergency services.

To leave core services intact would take cutting recreation and library budgets, for example, Willis said.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or (803) 283-1151