AIKEN - It was belt tightening time for the Aiken County Council on Monday night when the county's budget for 2001 became law.
Nearly every plea for additional funding, particularly additional personnel for the sheriff's office and the clerk of court, was turned down. The eight members present reluctantly acquiesced on one more full-time position for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office but failed to provide money to fund it.
As a result, taxes to pay for county operations and projects will remain the same as last year, with the tax rate standing at 63.5 mills for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The $62.9 million budget is a decrease of about $2 million from last year's budget, according to County Administrator Bill Shepherd.
"The decrease is due to our expenditure of grant funds for the development of Sage Mill Industrial Park," he said.
"Guiding the growth of the budget has been a determination to live within the natural growth of our economy and not seek additional resources by an increase in tax rates."
Adamant about not raising the millage, council members turned down Aiken Technical College President Susan Graham's request for a 1 mill increase to cover extra maintenance made necessary by recent construction. Although council Chairman Ronnie Young and District 4 Councilman Eddie Butler supported the increase, it did not garner support from other members.
"I've never voted for a tax increase. I would like to see us address the maintenance needs of Aiken Technical College in next year's budget, but I would hate to see a tax increase when we have a balanced budget," District 6 Councilman Joel Randall.
That budget is a tight one though, with a scant $3,000 left unspent. Even so, the budget could wind up in the red if anticipated tax revenues, including fees in lieu of taxes from five local industries, don't come in. And fees in lieu of taxes are hard to estimate, because the state Department of Revenue - not the county - assesses them, according to Terry Bodiford, county finance director.
"We could be as much as $300,000 short of projections if fee in lieu of taxes and other revenues don't come in by Dec. 31," Mr. Bodiford said.
Or there could be a budget surplus at the end of the year, if incoming revenues are above estimates, he said.
All other requests for additional money or new positions were turned down except the full-time lieutenant's position requested by Sheriff Howard Sellers. Mr. Shepherd was instructed to insert the new position into the budget but to designate only $10 for funding, meaning the position was created but cannot be filled until money for it is budgeted by special ordinance.
"I'd like to put it in even if it's funded at less than budgeted," District 7 Councilman Rick Osbon said.
Cost of the position is estimated at more than $46,000.
That was one of the items in the budget District 2 Councilwoman Susan Giddings opposed. She went on record as voting against adding the position, although she supported the budget as a whole.
"I am voting for the budget because it is balanced. One position has been added to this budget without funding and I do object to that, because in my opinion that's like using a credit card for it," Mrs. Giddings said.
Reach Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895.
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