Originally created 05/17/99

Aiken County budget subject to revisions



AIKEN -- Though Aiken County's proposed local government budget for next year contains no tax increases, some say it still will get some tweaking.

"I've never been in a budget that wasn't disputed," County Councilman Eddie Butler said. "I don't think it will be as difficult a process as in the past. It's unusual to have a budget like this.

"If the process is easy, it'll be a first," he said.

The $65.5 million proposed budget for fiscal year 1999-2000 contains something that has been absent from past county budgets: projected revenue growth.

The current fiscal year likely will leave the county with a budget surplus, County Administrator Bill Shepherd told the council recently.

"Revenues realized to date for the current fiscal year reflect a greater rate than we envisioned or than has been experienced in recent years," Mr. Shepherd said. "We have researched the source of this growth and find it is based in recent capital investment from new industries and general healthiness of the economy."

The Aiken County Council raised taxes by 5 mills last year. Four mills paid increased costs of solid-waste disposal, and 1 mill went for road work.

The economy and investment from new industry are expected to provide the county with growth in revenues for at least the next three years, Mr. Shepherd told the council.

As a result, the proposed budget contains a 4 percent pay increase for most county employees, about twice the pay raise they received in the current budget.

The proposed budget also contains 22 new jobs, seven of which will be financed through grants, fees or sources other than county property taxes.

Under the proposed budget, the Aiken County Detention Center will get five new positions, three of them shift supervisors.

Emergency services will have a net gain of five positions, four of which are firefighters to be stationed at Sage Mill Industrial Park.

The sheriff's office will have a net gain of four positions, including a records clerk and a dispatcher, paid for through regular accounts. New positions paid for by grants include the sheriff's DUI Task Force.

The county's solid-waste program is down 10 positions, seven of which were attendants for the county's solid-waste drop-off sites.

These are the result of additional costs associated with the county's first year of using Three Rivers Regional Landfill, Mr. Shepherd said. Positions in the proposed budget reflect employees who have been laid off already or positions that have been eliminated, he said.

The county also has had to cut back on when some of the drop-off centers are open but may revise the schedule in the coming year, Mr. Shepherd said.

The Aiken County Council is required by law to approve a budget by the end of June. There are likely to be some changes in the proposal by then, said Councilwoman LaWana McKenzie.

"This is just a matter of moving funds from one account to another," she said. "Last year, we didn't have enough for our legally required duties."

Todd Bauer covers Aiken County and business issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.