THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
County budget includes employee bonuses
By Jackie R. Broach
Georgetown County isn’t quite ready to reinstate annual raises for employees, but it looks like those on the payroll will get at least one bigger paycheck this year.
Georgetown County Council members told staff this week to go ahead with plans to include a 2- to 4-percent salary supplement for full- and part-time employees in a draft of the $59 million operating budget that will be presented May 24. A public hearing on the budget is also scheduled that night.
This will be the first time county employees have had a pay raise in two years, since council approved a 3-percent pay cut for all employees and put cost of living increases on hold to help balance the 2010 budget.
The supplements will most likely be 3 percent, and would be paid in one lump sum, Administrator Sel Hemingway said. He believes the funds would have a bigger impact for employees that way instead of spread out over 26 pay periods, he told council.
The impact to the budget would be about $744,000, according to figures given to council.
The county would still be able to balance the budget with no tax increase and no reduction in services, and would be able to maintain an “adequate” balance in the reserve fund, Hemingway said. Projections through 2016 show the reserve would be about $9.1 million in the 2012 budget and dip to about $8.5 million in 2014.
The bonus will not increase the base salary for future raises.
“We are not confident we have recovered to a degree” that the county can commit to that, Hemingway said. “We hope to be in a position in future years to do something on a more permanent basis, but this is the best we can do under the circumstances.”
The supplement won’t be merit-based, but employees who have been with the county since salaries were cuts might get more than newer hires. Someone who has only worked for the county for a few months might only get 3 percent of what they earned in that period, Hemingway said. He’s still working out the mechanism that will be used in calculations.
Including the supplements, the county expects to have to use $560,220 from the general fund reserve to balance the 2012 budget, according to the version presented this week.
But Hemingway predicted that figure will be lower when council next sees the draft.
The county anticipates drawing from the reserve to balance its next two budgets.
In addition to the bonuses, council was asked to raise the $35 commercial tipping fee at the landfill to $38 or $40, but the members were reluctant to raise the fee.
The cost per ton to dispose of waste in the landfill is projected at $40.52 in 2012. Besides bring the fee closer to the cost, Hemingway said it would also help balance the Environmental Services budget, which includes the landfill. It is projected to have a deficit of $107,220 next year as a result of a landfill expansion. The deficit would continue to grow in future years, depleting reserve funds if action isn’t taken.
“We’re not asking you for a vote tonight,” Hemingway told council. “It’s not going to have a significant impact over the next year or two years, whether you make a decision today or a year from now.”
Council Member Bob Anderson asked about the fees in neighboring counties and if the county risks losing business if it raises its fee.
The fee in Horry County is lower, because it handles a higher volume of waste and the operations cost per ton is lower, Hemingway said. But it doesn’t accept waste from outside the county.
Council Member Jerry Oakley favored holding off approval of a fee increase.
“This may be a problem where patience is the best solution,” he said. “Let’s say our prayers and maybe it will take care of itself.”
Council flatly refused to approve a $13 increase to the $44 household fee for disposal of residential waste in October. That increase was also proposed to help fill a gap in the Environmental Services budget created by the landfill expansion. It would have taken effect as part of the coming budget.
The county will continue to look at evolving technology that might help keep more materials out of the landfill and postpone future expansions, Hemingway said.