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County to hold budget hearing

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By Chris Sardelli

Taxpayers will have a chance to weigh in on the upcoming county budget, and a series of potential tax increases, during a Monday, June 10, public hearing at Lancaster County Council’s meeting.
Residents can voice concerns and ask questions during the public hearing on several proposed new fees in the draft budget. The meeting is 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at the Lancaster County Administration Building, 101 N. Main St.
The budget for the 2013-14 general fund is balanced at an estimated $37,011,185, an increase of 3.4 percent from the current year’s budget. Budget numbers were not available during council’s first reading of the budget in May.
The proposed budget features a 2.75 millage increase in the county’s general fund, from 71.4 to 74.15 mills.
Also included in the proposed budget is an increase of .15 mills in the University of South Carolina Lancaster millage. That is tied to council’s commitment to fund the university’s new Founders Hall, as well as an increase of .30 mills in the debt service millage, which is set by the county’s auditor and treasurer.
The net result of all three millage increases, a total of 3.2 mills, is an increase of $6.60 in taxes on a $100,000 home and a $3.90 tax increase on a car or cars worth a total of $30,000, said County Administrator Steve Willis. For an average Lancaster County family, this results in a total increase of $10.50 in annual property taxes.
Willis said residents may wonder why the requested millage increase is lower than the millage listed in the county’s public notice. The higher amount, he said, gives council leeway to adjust the millage during its meetings.
“You advertise the maximum millage you can do because if you advertise a lesser number and then council needs to increase the millage, you couldn’t do it because you advertised the lower number,” Willis said. “So you advertise high just to make sure.”
Other notable fee changes in the budget include:

  • An increase in the county road fee from $25 to $30. The is anticipated to generate an additional $175,000 in revenue, which would take effect in January 2014
  • An increase in plan review fees when building a new home, from 10 percent of the cost of a building permit to 50 percent. A plan review is where building inspection staff make sure a plan meets various codes.
  • Instituting a $25 per hour fee for any entity that requests a standby Emergency Medical Services employee for an event, such as festivals or high school football games

“Council members have said that growth needs to pay for growth, but if that’s the case, then fees need to go up,” said Willis, pointing to the road and plan review fees.
Council will also look at adding several expenses, including:

  • A salary adjustment of 2 percent for county employees with a floor of $900 and a cap of $80,000, at a cost of $400,000
  • Restoration of $35,000 in funding for Lancaster County 4-H
  • Funding of $400,000 for a new Indian Land convenience site.

The public hearing for the budget is one of three scheduled for the start of the meeting, which also includes a hearing on a new $950,000 general obligation bond and amendments to the current county budget.
Council will meet in closed session before the meeting at 5:30 p.m. to hear an economic development update from Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. President Keith Tunnell.
They will also hear a legal briefing from County Attorney Mike Ey and information on a contractual matter. The executive session will continue after the meeting, if needed.
Regular council meetings are held on the second and fourth Mondays each month at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at the Lancaster County Administration Building.
Council meetings are open to the public. Council agenda packets are available online at  www.mylancastersc.org/, by looking under the Government tab and then clicking Agendas and Minutes.
The county’s proposed fiscal year 2013-14 budget is also available on the county’s website, by looking under “Departments,” “Finance,” “Documents” and then clicking on “FY 2014 Recommended Budget.”

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416