One of the slides we were shown early on in our presentation of the budget was this one:
Public Safety: 29% of Budget Expenditures
Quality of Life: 19%
Public Works: 12%
Does this breakdown fall in line with your Priorities?
Which area do you think got initial approval for a Tax Increase?
For the Full Video of this Meeting - Click HERE
To View The Entire Proposed Budget (as originally presented) - Click HERE
Please look over this budget and its priorities and give me your feedback!
Spartanburg County proposed budget includes tax hike for parks
By Felicia Kitzmiller
Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 6:32 p.m.
Spartanburg County's proposed budget includes a tax hike for parks, increased fees and higher health insurance costs for employees, who will not receive pay raises.
A divided County Council passed first reading of the budget after a workshop Thursday.
Chairman Jeff Horton and council members O'Neal Mintz, Michael Brown and Jane Hall voted in favor. Councilmen Roger Nutt, David Britt and Dale Culbreth said they voted against the budget because of an amendment by Mintz to increase the millage rate for the parks department's special tax district from 5 mills to 5.5 mills. The proposal would raise the taxes on a $100,000 owner occupied home in the special district by $2 annually.
“I'll tell you up front that last year we cut the millage from 5.8 to 5 mills. I was part of what led that. I made a mistake; I see that,” Mintz said. “I'm very pleased with the way parks are going today.”
While the parks department has enough money in its capital budget, it is running out of operational funds to sustain growth called for in the parks improvement plan, Mintz said. There are several new parks in the works, and as Chesnee prepares to enter the parks district, the county will assume responsibility for the popular Chesnee senior center and its property.
Nutt said the parks improvement plan is a lofty and worthy goal, but he would not support a tax increase for funding.
“It was done on the condition if we couldn't afford it and couldn't maintain it properly, then we wouldn't do it. To me affordability doesn't mean a blank check, and every time we need more money we go back to the taxpayers,” he said.
Quality of living expenses, which includes parks department spending, is also a significant portion of the county budget, exceeding spending for basic government services like public works, Nutt said.
Britt and Culbreth also voted against the amendment and the overall budget when the amendment passed. Both said that given the difficult financial times and cuts that had to be made in other areas of the county's budget, they could not support a tax increase for parks.
Culbreth said he and other council members have pledged repeatedly that public safety would be a priority, yet nearly every fire district requested millage increases for new equipment and other needs, and all were denied and told to do without. The sheriff's office and the jail also have unfulfilled needs, he said.
“I truly see the need. I truly see the advantage in having a good parks system. … But I also see the economic position we are in,” Culbreth said.
The budget also calls for an increase in building permit fees. County Administrator Katherine Hubbard said the fees have not been increased since 1991 and are currently considerably lower than surrounding areas. She included a revenue increase in the draft budget, but asked council for more time to continue to work with the Home Builders Association of Greater Spartanburg to produce a specific fee schedule that would have minimal impact on construction and growth.
One of the biggest cost reductions undertaken for the upcoming fiscal year was a health insurance plan overhaul. County employees' monthly contributions will increase by about $22 for an individual, $87 for a couple, $88 for an individual with dependents and $158 for a family.
The county contribution to the Medicare Advantage Plan will also be capped at its current level of $73 per month.
Employees will be subject to new fees, including a $20 surcharge for smoking, a $40 surcharge for a spouse who smokes and $90 to insure a spouse or dependent who has insurance available from another source.
Hubbard said staff attacked the problem with a goal of reducing the county's health insurance cost by $4 million. Their research showed other employers with a comparable number of employees deflected a higher percent of insurance costs to employees. The changes bring the county in line with industry standard, Hubbard said.
Inexpensive, quality health insurance is one of the few perks to local government employment, and Culbreth, chairman of the personnel and finance committee, said he hated to see it go, especially since the county's nearly 1,400 employees will not receive a pay raise. County employees received a pay raise in fiscal year 2013, but had not received one for several years before that.
“If I could stand before you and tell you to keep it, if you could afford it, I would,” Hubbard said of the existing health insurance plan.
The tentative budget hinges on an allocation from the state's local government fund that is at least equal to the $10.4 million the county received in 2013, Hubbard said. The local government fund allocation for Spartanburg peeked in 2008 with a disbursement of $14.6 million and fell to $8.7 million in 2012, before recovering slightly last year.
Horton encouraged County Council members to reach out to the state delegation and urge them to restore local government funding at the levels promised in the state constitution.
About $8.1 million had to be trimmed from department budget requests to balance the budget without a general fund tax increase, which was a difficult process, Hubbard said.
“I think they submitted budgets that truly represented their needs … These weren't requests for wants or desires,” she said.
The staff also asked council to approve a prioritized list of requests not included in the budget that would be funded if money became available.
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