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County Budget, Public Hearing in disarray

web posted May 4, 2009
OPINION – The Edgefield County Council will be holding a Public Hearing on the coming fiscal year’s budget, as well as a second reading, on Tuesday night May 5, at 6 pm. Or is it the publicly announced date of May 19 at 6 pm? It appears our county administration is just as confused about what it going on with the budget process as some members on the county council are about what the budget includes.

That is not very inspiring. When the ones elected or appointed to see to it that our county government is run properly, and that they are good stewards of our tax dollars, just seem to be on autopilot as the ship is on a path to be run aground is a scary thought not a reassuring one.

Fortunately County Council members Rodney Ashcraft and Genia Blackwell are the only ones who at least have grabbed a paddle to try to steer the ship from its dangerous course, but being in the minority their attempts seem futile. Both, however, have vowed to continue their fight for fiscal responsibility.

Councilwoman Blackwell offered an amendment to the budget on April 21 that would have balanced the budget and fully funded the promised benefits package to county employees. It was a bold plan rooted in her more than 20-years experience in business and the financial markets - needs and the sustainability of functions of the company (or government in this case) with loyal employees should be the priority, without an increase in taxes.  

Councilman Ashcraft joined Blackwell in support of the amendment but they were shot down on a 3-2 vote by the long-term majority, most who has served on the county council for 20-years each.

County Council Chairman Monroe Kneece, who joined the majority in shooting down the amendment, stated he did not see a need to make any changes in the budget because they (the council) did not know what the final revenue sources from the state would be until June. That runs contrary to the March vote to change the budget to give $17,500 not budgeted to the Edgefield Civic League. When asked by Administrator John Pettigrew where the majority expected to find the money to pay for it Kneece exclaimed, “We’ll find it somewhere.” That “somewhere” ended up being an increase in taxes.  

We question Mr. Kneece on his waffling. If there is no need to worry about changing the budget to accept the amendment loaded with cuts, most of which county department heads readily agreed to, then why change it to add a tax increase for the sole purpose of giving the money away?

Perhaps that answer is found in what few people know about the Blackwell amendment and what it would have done for the county taxpayer had it been accepted. It would have forced the Edgefield County Council members to go on record by vote for every dollar of taxpayer monies that were given away to organizations that have nothing to do with operating the county government.

In addition, it would have forced council members to either bring forth additional cuts to pay for the give-aways or go on record to raise taxes to give taxpayers money away in these dire economic times.

What a beautiful thing.

Sadly, the amendment failed along party lines. Democrats Kneece, Dorn, and Bright voted to increase taxes to fund non-governmental agencies while imposing a decrease in pay for the “little guys” who work for the county and pay those very taxes in additional to all other taxpayers. Republicans Genia Blackwell and Rodney Ashcraft voted against the tax and spend budget that includes Pork in its purest form.

There will be a Public Hearing on the budget for the taxpayers to offer their views, at this time the actual date is unknown as the county has advertised one date and planned on another. The public notice in the Citizen News (Wed. April 29, pg 5) states the date as March 19 at 6 pm, which coincides with the date of the next budget workshop, or the “pony show” as Chairman Kneece calls them. However, council members have confirmed the Public Hearing is on the agenda for the May 5 meeting at 6 pm. 

We would suggest attending every meeting as a public comment period is held each time regardless of a public hearing. The only way for your voice to be heard is to stand up and speak.


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