Budget pic

The crowd that gathered to hear Williamsburg County Council’s decision on the budget was so large many had to move across the street to the Alex Chatman Auditorium where the meeting was streamed live.

                                                                                                                                                                       Photo by Michaele Duke

Supervisor says relying on last year’s budget will be impossible

As a capacity crowd looked on, Williamsburg County Council voted four to three to operate the government on last year’s budget. During the July 1, special called meeting, council was given three options to consider on the 2019-2020 budget. The options were a $40 first responder fee to vehicle tax and two separate employee furloughs. They chose instead to operate on the 2018-2019 budget at approximately $21 million. The proposed budget was approximately $22 million. The budget was never presented to the public, as has been the case in the past.

The initial proposed budget included pay increases for all employees, which played a role in inflating the deficit. Williamsburg County Supervisor Dr. Tiffany Wright said the increases were stricken from the budget, which she said now threatens a possible furlough. “We started big,” said Wright. “They at least got themselves to a median, according to South Carolina Association of Counties wage and salary report - a median or to their maximum level.” She said maximum levels would have been granted to employees according to their tenure. “They don’t even have a cost of living increase,” she said of the current budget. “They have no bonuses, they have nothing right now.”

There was some confusion regarding the process to which council had to follow. Before voting on a TAN or Tax Anticipation Note (used by state and local governments to obtain financing before tax revenues have been received) council first had to vote on third reading of the proposed budget. It passed and then they debated any additions, deletions or changes to the proposed budget. Council voted four to three to strike the $40 fee from the budget. Once that procedure was complete, a motion was made and passed with the final draft of the budget amended based upon that motion. Council then made a final motion of the adoption of the budget (a copy of the 2018-19 budget) as amended.

Wright argued that relying on last year’s budget is impossible because that budget was not balanced and they would not have the revenue to run the government. Councilmember Sam Floyd responded. “Actually more than possible because we would have additional revenue,” he said. Floyd did not elaborate on his statement.

Williamsburg County Budget Director Liz Nelson reminded council that the approved budget for last fiscal year was not balanced. “You need to state, do you want to adopt the approved budget that was not balanced or the amended that was balanced.” Floyd repeated his statement adding, “We voted four to three to adopt it again, this year’s budget, put the TAN on it, we’re finished.” Council has the option to amend the budget at a later date.

Council Vice Chairman Andy McKnight voted in favor of the budget. “We have to have a balanced budget and it looks like we haven’t been able to get a balanced budget except to put in the $40 or furloughs for employees. To me, I didn’t see where we needed to do that,” said McKnight during a phone interview the following day. Another councilmember said he couldn’t vote on the final budget that he was given only a half a day to review.

“It was a clown show,” said Councilman Eddie Woods after the meeting. Woods said such a vote would lead to a crisis by the end of the fiscal year. “That’s insanity. That’s the most absurd - I’ve been in the school system for 30 years and dealt with big budgets but that’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

After the meeting, Nelson was asked to comment on what the future looks like for the county. She said she would run the numbers to give her a better forecast for the year but at this point she’s not feeling confident. “Unfortunately we will see the financial implications on the end (of the fiscal year). Maybe sooner,” she added that the cost of living, retirement and group health insurance have increased and will be reflected in the new budget. “We’re going to have budget overrun all over the place. I mean a true budget overrun because we’re trying to pay out of last year’s budget for these new expenses that some of them we have no control over.” When asked to comment, no first responders (who attended the meeting and would be affected the most by the cutting of the $40 fee) would comment on what transpired. Wright said she will go back to the drawing board.