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Budget process could see more cuts and uncertainty
A Column by the Editor
posted February 4, 2010
COLUMN – With the new year comes the
daunting task of passing next year’s fiscal budget with even deeper
cuts expected than last year. The battle over where to cut over
$620,000 last year left the county in jeopardy of ending the fiscal
year without a budget in place. This year could be worse.
Last year Edgefield County Council Chairman Monroe Kneece finally broke
from the ranks of the entrenched veteran council members and supported,
along with Councilman Rodney Ashcraft, a budget presented by
Merriwether Councilwoman Genia Blackwell that provided for
the cuts, employee benefits, and did not raise taxes.
South Carolina State Representative Bill Clyburn (D-Aiken) said at the
Intergovernmental Meeting last week that all indications are there will
be further cuts to the Aid to Subdivisions, also referred to as the
Local Government Fund (LGF), but to what extent remains uncertain.
Revenues to the state are down considerably and that in turn would be
reflected in the amount of funds directed back to the counties. Rep.
Clyburn said he hoped that “stimulus money” could be used to offset
some of the shortfalls, but gave no guarantees.
State Sen. Shane Massey has been cautious in his predictions since all
funding originates in the House. A key issue for Sen. Massey was
funding for education, he stated in previous conversations.
Almost all county departments have already been cut to the skeleton and
any further cuts would likely result in radical changes and could bring
back the hotly contested debate of county employees being forced to pay
for promised insurance benefits while not receiving pay raises in past
years and working at a pay scale lower than surrounding counties.
Further cuts from the state would also ignite a second debate over tens
of thousands of dollars given away to non-governmental entities such as
Piedmont Tech and the Tompkins Library, who collectively receive over
$50,000 from the county.
Recreation could also see a greater impact on its budget than last year
as the only non-essential county government operation. Under the budget
provided for this fiscal year, $201,783 is spent on recreation. The
Recreation Department was said to be self-sustaining when it was
created. Since that time the county has expended a million dollars on a
program that was promised to never cost the taxpayers a penny.
Depending on which representative you ask at the local or state level,
the expected cut of the Aid to Subdivisions from the state to the
county is expected to be somewhere between 12% and 15%, or roughly
$175,000 that will have to be trimmed from the budget.
And that would not include any shortfall from revenues collected by the
county. There is also an almost guaranteed cut in Special Local Option
Sales Tax funds (SPLOST). With overall spending in the state down, the
penny tax revenues are estimated to be down between 20% and 30%, adding
even deeper problems for county leaders.
When all the bad news is totaled, the county could have to trim as much
as $300,000 from the total budget if projections available at this time
come to fruition.
To see what has happened over the past three years - the budget for
fiscal year 08-09 rang in at over $8.8 million, fiscal year 09-10
dropped to just over $8.2 million, and this coming fiscal year the
budget could fall to $7.9 million - a 12% reduction in the overall
budget in just two years.
The question that will remain to be answered is - will the county
finally focus on needs over wants and giveaways?
The budget process begins in earnest next month.
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