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Lancaster County could see a cut of more than $1.55 million in its state funding, if a proposed budget becomes reality.
Recommended by the state House Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 19, the proposed state budget would decrease money allocated to local governments by $122 million. This translates to a near 50 percent funding cut for governments throughout the state.
If approved, the cuts would affect the next fiscal year budget, which begins July 1.
Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said the cuts would take Lancaster County back to its 1994-95 funding level, decreasing the amount of funding the county receives from the state from $3.63 million to $2.08 million
“If this comes true, the council (County Council) will have a heck of a time,” Willis said.
Willis said the cuts would be hard for council to make up, even with a tax increase. If the state makes the cut, Willis said council would probably not institute across-the-board cuts.
Instead, it would most likely protect core needs, such as police and rescue services, and reduce funding for low-priority services, such as libraries and recreation.
But that might create additional problems, Willis said. That’s because if a library receives less county funding than it did two years earlier, it also results in a reduction of state support as well.
Decreased funds for the recreation department might also result in a fee hike for residents at a time when many can least afford it.
“It’s hard for families to pay fees now,” he said. “No matter what we cut, it will significantly impact somebody.”
Willis said cuts to other services, such as Emergency Medical Services or the public works department, would also be difficult to implement.
EMS is struggling to maintain its eight-minute response time as the county continues to grow, and the county has hundreds of miles of road to maintain and only 17 employees to work on them.
“There’s no question the budget cuts would equal service cuts,” Willis said. “Council will have to make the determination to cut back on the amount of service provided, or if they should even provide certain services at all.”
Robert Croom, deputy general counsel at the S.C. Association of Counties, said the budget bill has been sent to the state House floor.
If adopted, it will move to the Senate for a vote.
The House is also considering separate but related legislation to suspend the current local government fund formula. That’s because the state budget cuts can only be made if this legislation is passed.
Croom said he will be speaking with members of the House this week to explain just what these cuts could mean for their respective local governments.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 416-8416