County makes cuts in budget

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By Jenny Hartley

The state isn’t the only government entity with budget problems.

Because of budget cuts at the state level, Lancaster County Council gave final approval to a 1 percent,  across-the-board budget cut Monday night.

Expenses are going up for the county due to the state cuts, such as increased expenses for mental patient security at Springs Memorial Hospital due to a loss of beds in the state mental health system. Lancaster County sheriff’s deputies provide the security.

The state has also cut crime scene processing from the State Law Enforcement Division’s budget. Also due to SLED’s reduced budget, Lancaster County now has extra costs for National Crime Information Center access. NCIC tracks wanted or missing persons, stolen cars and other crime-related information in a national database.

“We attempted to make the cuts as painless as possible,” County Administrator Steve Willis wrote in a memo to council members. “Where possible, we utilized savings from vacant positions, which remain open due to our hiring freeze.”

Willis said it appears the county will be able to avoid layoffs or furloughs.

But Willis said he will take a five-day furlough to trim his department’s expenses. That will cut $1,900 from the budget.

Other expenses trimmed from the county budget include:

– Closing the Fort convenience site in the Cedar Creek community. The average traffic count at the site, where residents dump their trash and recyclables, is 25 cars per day. Residents in this area will have to use the Erwin Farm or Heath Springs convenience sites.

Other trash sites will likely delay opening on Thursdays and Fridays by one hour.

– Recreation department lighting projects will be delayed, and will hopefully be included in next year’s capital budget, Willis said.

– Direct assistance for Learning Institute for Tomorrow, Palmetto Citizens Against Sexual Assault and HOPE was trimmed from the budget.

Willis told council that staff will review contracts with Heath Springs and Kershaw for providing law enforcement through the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office. The fees the county charges to the towns have not increased for several years, even though salaries and expenses to provide the services have increased each year, Willis said.

An item that won’t be cut is vehicle replacement for the sheriff’s office’s aging fleet.

“We looked long and hard at this item and determined that given the age of the fleet, from past years where used cars were purchased, that a reduction here would be penny-wise and pound- foolish,” Willis said. “The older vehicles are maintenance hogs and the savings from having newer cars on the road would more than offset the maintenance costs associated with keeping the old junkers running.”

County unanimously approved the 1 percent cut with little discussion.

Councilman Fred Thomas said Tuesday that he views the cut as a “necessary evil.”

“I’m not sure we’ve bottomed out yet,” Thomas said. “We just pray the economy turns around before we have to cut services or people.”

Council member Bryan Vaughn said he didn’t want to see any cuts, but knew council had to make the tough decision to trim the budget.

“Across-the-board cuts are terrible,” he said. “I don’t think every department can absorb them. But we certainly don’t want to send people home. Sadly enough, I think things are really going to get tight over the next year or two.”

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