May 5—Aiken County Council has begun the annual process of working out the details for and finalizing a financial plan for the county.
During its meeting at the Aiken County Government Center on Tuesday night, the panel of elected officials unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that would establish the 2021-2022 fiscal year budget.
The second reading is scheduled for June 1, and the third and final reading is scheduled for June 15.
The current fiscal year ends June 30.
Prior to County Council's vote, County Administrator Clay Killian presented the budget draft that he and his staff had prepared.
"While there are many unaddressed needs in this proposal, particularly in our public safety departments, it is believed that this financial plan will allow us to maintain our current levels of service to our citizens," Killian said.
His recommended figure for the General Fund, which provides money for the county's day-to-day operating expenses, is $75,049,531 for both revenues and expenditures.
The amount represents a $1.4 million increase over the fiscal year 2020-2021 adjusted budget, according to Killian.
"All other funds are balanced as well," he said. "The total for all other funds is $115,345,289, bringing the total budget for next year to $190,394,820."
The reasons for the increase in the General Fund included "the necessary adjustment" to the salaries of emergency medical services employees, Killian reported.
Raises were needed because the county was having difficulty in retaining such workers and in filling vacant positions.
Another reason for the General Fund increase was the rising cost of health insurance for county employees.
"We are projecting a 10% increase ... for the coming year," Killian said.
The budget draft includes three new positions — a contract administrator in the Finance Department, an additional building inspector and a litter foreman.
Having a litter foreman would "allow us to establish a crew for picking up litter along our roadways," Killian said. "There is also funding to hire temporary workers from personnel staffing services to create the crew."
There is $20,000 in the proposed budget for a litter prevention incentive program. Anyone turning in a litterer, who later is convicted, would "receive a stipend for their efforts," Killian said.
In addition, he recommended a 3% across-the-board salary increase for county employees in the budget draft.
The proposed financial plan for 2021-2022 doesn't include a millage rate increase.
In fact, the anticipated growth of the county's tax base "will allow a small downward adjustment" in that rate, Killian told County Council.
"The General Fund revenue from property taxes is projected to increase by approximately $2.4 million in the next fiscal year," he reported.
Following the meeting, County Council Chairman Gary Bunker talked briefly about his first impression of the budget draft.
"Obviously, we haven't had a chance to do more than listen to what Clay Killian presented this evening," he said. "The main takeaway is that whatever revenue growth we have seen has been rapidly eaten up by, first of all, fixing the EMS problem (by increasing salaries) and, second of all, by the increase in health benefits. So what we see is that, even in a year with relatively decent revenue growth, we also have a growth in expenses that we have to deal with before we do anything else."
In other action during Tuesday's meeting, County Council unanimously approved the third and final readings of two ordinances that will provide tax incentives for Aiken Electric Cooperative and its subsidiary, AEConnect Inc., for a broadband network development project.
The project will provide high-speed internet service to rural portions of Aiken County and other locations in Aiken Electric's service territory.
Counties in that territory also include Edgefield and Barnwell.
In addition Tuesday, County Council unanimously passed a resolution that would authorize Bunker or Killian to sign a letter that will facilitate the financing of the construction of a new fire station for the Monetta Community Volunteer Fire Department.
The county will have no financial involvement or obligation.