THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Budgets: Reaction muted as Bob Anderson seeks spending cuts
By Jackie R. Broach
Georgetown County Council Member Bob Anderson knows his chances of getting a pay-to-play recreation plan approved are “probably slim to none.”
A suggestion he made this week to eliminate two of the county’s six magistrate positions isn’t likely to go anywhere either, but Anderson isn’t backing down. He has been on a mission to ferret out new ways to cut costs in the county budget and use tax dollars more efficiently since he took office in January, and he hopes to create change at a grassroots level.
“What I’m trying to do is turn on a light, and that light is personal responsibility,” Anderson said. “If you want something, you need to pay for it. It’s time for people to start taking responsibility for their own lives.”
Anderson’s pay-to-play proposal would shift funding for the operation and maintenance of new parks and recreation facilities from tax revenue to user fees.
When he introduced the idea last month, his fellow council members weren’t enthusiastic, voicing concerns about pricing some families out of being able to use facilities.
But Anderson said providing swimming pools and tennis courts shouldn’t be government’s role.
“We’ve been bankrolling that sort of activity since LBJ came along,” Anderson said. “What churches and service organizations used to do in this country, the government is now doing. In my opinion, it’s time to quit taking money from one person and giving it to someone else.”
Tax revenue should only be used to fund core services, such as law enforcement, fire protection and road improvements, according to Anderson.
If people aren’t willing to pay for the privilege of using the facilities, they should be closed and sold to help pay off the county’s debt, Anderson said.
Construction hasn’t started yet on most of the facilities in the capital improvement plan.
Anderson isn’t sure how much the county’s debt is, he said, but it’s too high.
“We should have zero debt,” Anderson said. “Why should you and I be paying off a debt to the government? If you want something, you’ve got to have the money to go buy it, just like people used to. That’s what has gotten us in trouble from the top to the bottom is borrowing money.”
It hasn’t been determined what the fees would have to be to cover the annual cost of operations and maintenance for recreation facilities. The recreation department’s annual cost for operations and maintenance is $1.8 million. Anderson said he would be satisfied to have a portion of those costs covered by user fees.
“Maybe we can’t take the entire burden off the taxpayers, but I’d like to see the majority taken off,” he said.
By eliminating the positions of two retiring magistrates — in Murrells Inlet and Andrews — the county could save $150,000 to $200,000 a year, Anderson said.
He believes the county could function well with four magistrates, though it might mean “some extra travel, and more hours spent doing paperwork when not in the courtroom.”
But the idea won’t get anywhere without the support of the state senators, Ray Cleary and Yancey McGill, who nominate magistrates for appointment by the governor. The county is required to fund the positions.
“Kudos to Bob for trying to cut anything he can and trying to figure out what is essential and what is not,” Cleary said. “However, in this situation, I think there are a lot of reasons why this suggestion shouldn’t be implemented.”
One is that the state’s top judge, Chief Justice Jean Toal, recently ordered a statewide effort to address a “huge backlog” in drunken driving cases.
Chief magistrates throughout the state were directed to take four months to “triage” the problem and submit a report showing their compliance or substantial effort to comply with the order.
“We’re having some success, but Georgetown County, at the time of the order, had 404 backlogged DUI and DUAC [driving with unlawful alcohol content] cases,” Toal said.
Additionally the county had 8,137 criminal cases pending.
“And that’s just on the criminal side,” Toal said. “There are civil cases as well.
“Georgetown is a large county with a very spread out geographical situation and I wonder from a standpoint of public safety if it would be wise to reduce the number of magistrates. I think six is probably barely enough to handle the load.”
Cleary said he’s almost ready to nominate a new Murrells Inlet magistrate and McGill will do the same in Andrews.
“I talked to Sen. McGill and he doesn’t believe somebody in Andrews needs to drive to Georgetown for justice,” Cleary said. “I feel the same about Murrells Inlet, especially since 80 percent of the county’s taxes come from Waccamaw Neck.”
Anderson said he doesn’t think a 20- to 30-minute drive to reach a magistrate is unreasonable.
Anderson also took a stand this week against the county’s $12,000 expense for a swimming program for second-graders at the Georgetown County YMCA. The funds were approved last year, but the item was listed in an amendment to the budget presented to council on Tuesday.
His argument was familiar.
“Every child in this county needs to learn to swim; there’s no doubt about that,” Anderson said. “But the fact of the matter is we took taxpayers’ money. It wasn’t donated to this service organization. Personally, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”
It should be the responsibility of parents to make sure their children get swimming lessons, he said, and those who can’t afford them should go to churches and service organizations for help.
Anderson also opposed two other items in the budget amendment: $130,000 for the Lowcountry Housing Trust to address affordable housing issues and $350,969 to purchase property on Church Street in Georgetown for the recreation component of the capital improvement plan.
However, he voted for the amendment because the items were “sunk costs, or soon will be,” he said.