North Augusta City Council began working on its 2018 budget Monday night, addressing a projected $350,000 shortfall that could cause the city to raise taxes for the first time in 25 years.
Although the city has seen a boom in new businesses, especially at Interstate 20’s Exit 5, it takes two years for those property tax revenues to start coming in, city officials said. Sales tax revenues also are down by 23 percent, largely because of a state government order to exempt unprepared foods.
Meanwhile, the city has been socked by a state-mandated 2 percent increase in its contribution to the South Carolina Retirement System and Police Officers’ Retirement System. Those contributions will continue to increase 1 percent per year until 2022.
Essentially, the city has to budget as if every employee received a 2 percent raise, but the money goes directly to the retirement fund, which has a $24 billion gap between promised benefits and money on hand.
This is the biggest single factor in the shortfall, said City Administrator Todd Glover.
The preliminary budget, prepared by city staff, can be balanced by transferring $350,000 from reserves, or by finding that much in cuts.
The budget adds no new positions, though several had been requested, including an assistant city administrator. It also contains no merit increases for employees and no contribution to the Capital Improvements Fund.
After Monday’s regular meeting, city council members began going through the budget in a session that went on past The Chronicle’s deadlines. They will meet again Tuesday night, and hope to finish by figuring out how to close the gap.
The budget will be voted on three times before it becomes official, and a public hearing must be held.
Also Monday, city resident Kenton J. Makin asked council members to remove a monument in Calhoun Park dedicated to Thomas Meriwether, the only white person to die in an 1876 episode of racial violence that left seven black dead. They are not mentioned on the monument, which says in an inscription that Meriwether “exemplified the highest ideal of Anglo-Saxon civilization. By his death he assured to the children of his beloved land the supremacy of that ideal.”
The monument calls the violence “the Hamburg Riot,” but historians since have dubbed it “the Hamburg Massacre” to reflect its targeting of black citizens. In March 2016 — 100 years after the first monument was erected — residents and leaders of North Augusta unveiled a marker and memorial stone to remember the seven black men who were killed: Allen Attaway, Jim Cook, Albert Nyniart, Nelder Parker, Moses Parks, David Phillips and Hampton Stephens.
It was erected at Barton and Boylan streets, across from First Providence Baptist Church.
Mayor Bob Pettit said he was establishing an ad hoc committee, including “persons knowledgeable about the Hamburg Massacre, to recommend an appropriate course of action.