Budget process questioned

  • Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Kingstree Town Council’s narrow approval of second and final reading of the 2014-15 budget on May 12, was a repeat of first reading the month before. During council’s April 21, meeting Councilmember Darren Tisdale was one of three members who opposed the motion. Tisdale, who also is a member of the budget committee, said though he didn’t have a problem with the budget that he and his fellow committee members approved, he believes it should have been brought before the entire council before that evening. “I think everything looks really good but I think we should go over it with the whole council like the committee did,” said Tisdale. Councilmember Bubba Hammet agreed. “I think the committee has done a wonderful job putting it together but I think council should all go over it now that it’s been presented.”

Kingstree Mayor Ricky Burrows responded by saying council was part of the process. “I think that’s part of what Merianne (Cowley) did tonight,” said Burrows, referring to Finance Director Cowley’s presentation of the budget during the public hearing portion of the meeting. During a public hearing council and the public are given ample opportunity to ask questions. A meeting with the entire council would constitute a quorum thereby requiring public notice posted 24 hours in advance.

During the April 21, meeting, Kingstree Town Manager Dan Wells extended an invitation to all councilmembers who have questions regarding the budget to meet with him and the finance director. According to emails obtained by The News through the Freedom of Information Act, on April 22, councilmember Bubba Hammet requested a copy of the budget and offered to work with council to schedule a date to meet. According to Wells a date was never scheduled and none of the councilmembers requested a meeting. In addition, on April 28, Hammet requested information regarding fuel cost by department for the last four years, salaries by department and requested increases, and employee health insurance among other requests. The documents were provided via email to Hammet, along with all members of council (Luester McCullough does not have an email address therefore the information was provided regular mail).

In other business, Wells said of the approximately 2,700 surveys mailed to citizens, 230 were returned. The surveys were part of a citywide initiative to receive input from citizens. Wells said the low percentage of respondents was considered good because the town did not provide a self-addressed stamped envelope with the survey.

The survey revealed a desire to expand the Pig Pickin’ Festival’s footprint from its current location at the Kingstree Recreation Center to the downtown area. Wells said Mary Jean Holt would head a committee charged with the developing the plan. Another prevalent request was to fix up the storefronts of unoccupied buildings in the downtown area. Mayor Ricky Burrows said a matching grant has been offered to property owners but there have been no takers. Burrows suggested seeking a full grant that might facilitate such an endeavor.

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