By Allen Turner
The Columbus County commissioners Monday night increased the appropriation for capital outlay for Southeastern Community from $144,870 to $353,920 following an impassioned plea from SCC President Tony Clarke.
The additional $209,000 will come from the county’s fund balance, or rainy day fund, and is expected to be a recurring expenditure for ten years.
Clark told commissioners, “The $140,000 you have in your proposed budget simply will not maintain our campus. In order to adequately take care of our facilities, we need funding at, at the very least, the $350,000 level for 10 years.”
Commissioners are expected to give final approval for the fiscal year beginning July 1 at their next meeting Monday.
The increase in capital outlay appropriations for the college was strongly urged by Commissioners Ricky Bullard and Charles McDowell. “We can only let our education get better in Columbus County by supporting it,” Bullard said. McDowell added, “This will pay dividends for us in the future.”
County Manager Mike Stephens told commissioners that he and Finance Director Bobbie Faircloth had met with Clarke and that, based on their meeting, he was recommending that commissioners approve the $209,000 increase over what had been proposed in his original budget.
Commissioners also briefly discussed, but took no action on, the idea of separating the economic and planning departments and adding a third staff member due to increased workloads making provision of both economic development and planning services more difficult. It is possible that the third position could be added Monday before commissioners put their final stamp of approval on the budget document.
Under the budget, county employees will receive a 3.5 percent cost of living adjustment effective July 1 in the new budget presented by County Manager Mike Stephens to commissioners Monday night, but the county’s base ad valorem property tax rate will remain the same at 80.5 cents per $100 of evaluation.
County schools will receive $5,474,887 for current expenses, compared to $5,398,226 for the current year under Stephens’ proposed budget. City schools will get $2,220,646 for current expenses, compared to $2,073,165 this year. Southeastern Community College will receive $1,385,300 for current expenses, compared to this year’s $1,344,951.
In addition to SCC’s $353,920 for capital outlay, the county and city schools will receive $505,002 and $204,832 respectively for capital outlay, compared to the current budget’s $497,931, $202,927, and $607,671 for the college.
In preparing the new budget, Stephens had to grapple with significant increases of five percent in premiums for health insurance for county employees. Health insurance costs include 38 retirees, whose average premium is $1,928 a month, or $878,973 total.
Capital and noncapital outlay in the proposed budget includes purchases of ten vehicles and associated equipment for the sheriff’s office, replacement of showers in the detention center, 170 new computer monitors for the Dept. of Social Services and a van for parks and recreation.
Also budgeted are a new dental van and a car for the health department, remodeling of the old mental health hall, three HVAC replacements for the DSS, administration and Miller buildings, a truck for the maintenance department, a GPS system for central garage fleet cars and five vans and equipment for transportation.
The proposed public utilities budget includes purchase of two trucks and the solid waste budget includes capital outlay purchases of an excavator, roof repairs, concrete repairs, a roll off truck and two roll off containers.
Also included is the second of three disbursements of $125,000 for the fire training facility previously approved by commissioners. Of the total of $2,359,654 in capital and non-capital outlay costs, $1,669,896 will come from the general fund balance, or “rainy day” savings.