By Allen Turner
Columbus 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.
Commissioners conducted a required public hearing on the proposed budget Monday, but no members of the public offered input. They also held a budget workshop Tuesday night to go over portions of the budget line by line and will hold another such workshop at 6 p.m. Monday to complete the process. No changes were made to Stephens’ proposals at the Tuesday workshop.
Final adoption of the budget, as possibly amended during the next workshop, is expected at the June 18 board of commissioners meeting.
The general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year in Stephen’s proposed budget is $56,935,492, a 1.03 percent increase over the current year’s $58,513,472. The total budget, which includes enterprise funds such as water and solid waste, is $72,912.232, a 1.02 percent decrease from the current $74,026,261.
The new budget includes an annual reduction of $3 in solid waste user fees to $200 for county residents and $113 for municipal residents. Small water rate increases are anticipated and will be detailed in an article in Tuesday’s News Reporter.
The manager’s recommendations for total allocations to the city and county school systems and to Southeastern Community College increased by 3 percent.
County schools will receive $5,474887 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.
County and city schools and the college will receive $505,002, $204,832 and $144,870, respectively, for capital outlay, compared to the current budget’s $497,931, $202,927 and $607,671.
Stephens told commissioners that he had to grapple with increases of 5 percent in premiums for health insurance. 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.