County Council briefly discusses budget; passes first reading of development project

May 24, 2017 GMT

Two “big unknowns” face Aiken County’s fiscal year 2018 budget, the County’s administrator told Council members Tuesday night, and both are hung up in the state’s budget which is still being debated by lawmakers.

County Council met for a budget work session Tuesday that wrapped up briefly after Council members said they still needed more information about the state’s budget before beginning to dig into their own budget work.

A conference committee made up of House and Senate members is working to reach a compromise on the budget before it can be taken up by the full legislative body.

County Administrator Clay Killian said the uncertainties for Aiken County involve the pension fund and reimbursement for the 2014 ice storm.

“I don’t like the fact that there’s not a deal yet, or at least there’s not some intel on what’s going on with the ice storm,” Killian told Council members. “I think we could weather the LGF (local government fund) either way it goes; the ice storm money is a different story.”

The County’s budget proposal includes $4 million in anticipated funds from the state for the non-federal match for the storm known as Winter Storm PAX.

Without it, the budget faces a shortfall.

Councilwoman Camille Furgiuele said it’s important Council start discussing what its options will be to make up the difference.

Councilman Chuck Smith said those options are “pretty simple,” referencing at least two: passing the budget as presented and balancing it or raising taxes.

“Anyway you go, there’s going to be some unhappy people,” Smith said.

Furgiuele said even if the County raises taxes by implementing a millage adjustment, the County’s administrators and finance staff have pointed out it would still be limited by state law and could only stand to collect around $2.6 million, leaving around $1.4 million to come from another source.

She suggested Council members at least see how they want to approach the difference and delineate the options whether that includes looking at no tax increase, making cuts, a combination of both, using fund balance or anticipating other revenues.

Furgiuele said there may not be a need for discussion Tuesday because if the $4 million does come through, the County will have another year to plan for the next year.

As County officials understand, the stalemate in the state budget seems to involve the local government fund, Killian said during the work session.

According to the administrator, the Senate’s version would add around $600,000 to Aiken County’s budget. The House version would take roughly $300,000 out of the county’s allocation, but picks up part of the increase local governments will have to pay in the mandated contribution for the state retirement system.

The Association of Counties is advocating for the Senate version of the budget, according to Killian, but the Municipal Association is supporting the House version because it picks up the pension increase.

“If you remember the breakdown of the local government fund, counties get 83 percent of the pot and cities get 17 percent of the pot, so (it) doesn’t hurt them as much as it does us,” he said.

In other business, Council unanimously passed first reading of an ordinance for one or more incentive agreements for an economic development project identified as “Project Wilcox.”

Councilmen Willar Hightower and Andrew Siders were absent.

Aiken County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford also provided a presentation to Council about the Aiken Works program during the earlier special meeting.

The initiative is a marketing campaign designed to highlight opportunities in Aiken County from attending four-year or two-year colleges and universities or working in industry and manufacturing.