Posted on: 06.28.2018 at 03:00 p.m.
By Allen Turner
Columbus County commissioners last Monday gave final approval to a budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, a budget that marks a slight increase in funding over last year but falls far short of what had been requested by department heads.
The $56.9 million budget general fund budget represents a 1.03 percent increase over last year, while the total budget, which includes enterprise funds such as water and solid waste, shows a 1.02 percent increase to $72.8 million.
The ad valorem property tax rate remains at 80.5 cents per $100 valuation under the new budget, while slight water rate increases are included.
Although commissioners increased capital outlay funding for Southeastern Community College to $353,920 – $209,000 more than originally recommended by County Manager Mike Stephens – commissioners (as recommended by Stephens) didn’t approve $12.4 million from other appropriations that had been requested by the county’s various departments.
Education overall took the biggest hit from what had been requested. While SCC received more than had been recommended for capital outlay, other school funding came in $2.3 million less than the schools had sought with the county school system’s current expenditures and capital outlay requests taking big hits.
County schools requested $6.2 million for current expenses but got $753,983 less; Whiteville City Schools got $18,258 less than the $2.02 million requested for current expenses, and SCC saw its current expenses request of $1.4 million decrease by $21,529.
Although SCC’s capital outlay budget increased by $290,000 to $353,870, the county schools’ capital outlay budget was cut to $505,002, nearly $1.2 million less than the $1.7 million requested. The city schools had their capital outlay request dropped to $204,832, $1,905 less than requested.
The sheriff’s department received $1.3 million, not including detention center funding, $322,702 less than Sheriff Lewis Hatcher had asked for. Detention center expenditures were budgeted at $716,153, $89,698 less than requested by Hatcher.
Total Dept. of Social Services were cut by $207,500 to $437,200, while DSS expenditures for public buildings were cut by $7,459 to $70,459.
The minor home repairs expenditures budget saw an increase to $45,000, $20,000 more than had been requested.
Other requests by various departments are as follows. The first figure shows what the department head asked for above and beyond what he or she got last year. The second figure shows how much of that request was not approved. In most cases, however, departments got more than last year, just not as much as they had asked for.
Tax administration, $59,400, $9,400; court facilities, $89,155, $6,155; elections, $101,178, $23,678; non-departmental expenditures, $280,720, $195,805; public buildings administration, $8,274, $2,274; Miller Building expenditures, $10,200, $200; emergency services, $93,400, $23,800; fire marshal $5,864, $25,414; animal control, $55,000, $11,400; airport, $10,500, $900; building inspections, $14,000, $6,500; parks and recreation, $30,000, $10,000; and special appropriations, $228,420, $17,534.
Under the approved budget, county employees will receive a 3.5 percent cost of living adjustment increase. In preparing the 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 10 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.
One item not addressed in the final budget was a plea from the head of the Columbus County Homebuilders Association for salary increases in the inspections department (see separate story elsewhere in this issue).
In other business last Monday night not previously reported, commissioners heard a presentation from Richard Bond of A New Life Ranch, a new equine and cattle operation in the western end of the county; appointed the Adams Company to administer and provide administrative and technical and engineering services for residential hazard migration grant funding, heard a departmental update from Emergency Services Director Kay Worley, approved a home and community care block grant of $567,794 for the Dept. of Aging that will require a $63,088 local match, approved the potential use of economic development funds for extension of a water line down Midway Road, approved a new contract with Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams and Co. to audit the county’s books for the coming fiscal year, passed a resolution supporting extension of a natural gas pipeline into the county, named Commissioner Charles McDowell as the board’s voting delegate to the July National Association of Counties annual conference, and approved a contract between the county and the state Dept. of Environmental Quality for the Old Dock Elementary School sewer project.