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County Council: Job cuts balance budget

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Seven county employees will lose their jobs July 1 as part of Georgetown County Council’s effort to balance its budget. The rest of the county’s 580 workers will take a 3 percent pay cut.

The county will eliminate 28 positions. Eight are already vacant, three are held by people expected to retire, five positions are being replaced with part-time positions and employees in five of the positions being eliminated are being transferred to fill other vacancies.

Services should not be affected, said County Administrator Sel Hemingway.

A list of positions being cut was not released. Employees were still being notified Wednesday afternoon. The cuts will save about $1.15 million out of a $58 million budget.

“They realize these changes had to occur and are thankful it wasn’t more severe,” he said.

Georgetown County has a balanced budget for 2010, but getting there was a grueling process for all involved, Administrator Sel Hemingway said.

“We had some very difficult decisions to make,” he said. “The current economic times presented us with a situation we haven’t been faced with before.”

The proposed budget Hemingway presented to council in May had a $1.7 million deficit in the $22.7 million general fund. Council would either have to borrow the money from its reserve, potentially leading to deficits of $8.2 million over the next five years, or make some major cuts.

County Council picked an approach that balanced the two in an effort to preserve cash reserves and protect the county’s work force.

After two closed door meetings lasting more than three hours Tuesday to talk about personnel, County Council agreed to trim staff and salaries along with other measures that would cut about $1.5 million from the budget. The budget draws $174,000 from the county’s reserve fund.

The result is a $58 million budget that does not include a tax increase. That’s $3.1 million less than last year’s budget.

The decrease is shown in most of the county’s departments. Environmental Services received the biggest cut. Its $6.3 million budget decreased by almost $1.2 million.

Because of decreased revenue coming in for victims services, programs for crime prevention will receive $184,000 from the county this year, a decrease of $79,000. Representatives from Citizens Against Spouse Abuse pleaded with council to reconsider a $20,000 cut in its funding. The agency may have to close its Georgetown County safe house.

The only county departments to receive increases this year are stormwater and law enforcement. Stormwater will receive $1.6 million, an increase of $22,847. Law Enforcement will receive an additional $551,268 for a total of $10.2 million.

The county transferred the 911 communications fund from the general budget to law enforcement’s budget, along with 1.3 mills of property tax to provide for those costs, so that accounts for some of the increase, Hemingway said.

Workforce reductions, including seven layoffs, cutting five full-time positions to part-time and a 3 percent pay cut for all employees, saved the county about $1.15 million.

The cuts affecting personnel were the most difficult to make, Hemingway said.

“Council has never been faced with making any type of reductions in personnel, be it in numbers or affecting pay,” Hemingway said. “I can assure all employees and the public there has been a general concern for their well being from staff and County Council’s perspective. It was a very difficult situation and heartfelt decisions were made, because they had to be made.”

Adjustments were also made to the operations and maintenance budgets for the capital improvement plan. Those affected positions that would have been funded as part of the capital plan but are now on hold, Hemingway said.

Those funds will accumulate and won’t be directed to any purpose outside the capital plan, he said.

Up for final reading by council June 23, the budget will be available for public viewing at all public libraries and at the clerk to council’s office beginning Friday.

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