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County revenue forecast brightens, curbing plans to spend reserves

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The $62.6 million budget Georgetown County Council gave second reading to this week reflects an improvement to the general fund balance of $700,000 over what county staff projected this time last year — even with a 3 percent salary supplement for employees.

The county will utilize $952,000 from the $10 million reserve to balance the budget, according to County Administrator Sel Hemingway. The amount used was projected at $560,222 before council agreed to the supplement earlier this month at a cost of about $760,000.

The county will be left with $9.1 million in reserve for use in case of a disaster, such as a hurricane. The balance was expected to be $8.4 million last year.

Plans are to draw from the reserve to balance the 2013 and 2014 budgets as well while the economy recovers. The fund balance will drop to $8.6 million in 2013 before hitting a low of $8.4 million in 2014, then begin to recover in 2015, according to projections presented to council.

“We’re looking to the future and we’re on track, and will stay on track,” said County Council Member Jerry Oakley.

“The county is on a very sound basis financially.”

He called the budget “a realistic one.” It’s also one that contains no tax or fee increases and no reduction in services, council and county staff have been careful to point out.

A last-minute addition to the budget was a $12,000 contribution to a Georgetown County Family YMCA program that offers free swimming lessons to second-graders.

The county was also a partner in funding the program last year.

Their support, along with equal contributions from the Y, Georgetown County School District and the Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation, allowed 700 county second-graders to learn basic water safety.

Funding to support the program will come from a contingency line item in the general fund budget, Hemingway said.

Council agreed 6-1 to support the program. Bob Anderson was opposed.

“I don’t want to be redundant, but we talked some weeks ago about this,” he said. “I’m all for little people learning to swim, but I feel this is not the responsibility of taxpayers. Funding needs to come from churches and individuals.”

Oakley didn’t argue Anderson’s view during the meeting, but said he should have.

“The proper role of local government is provision for public health and safety. It seems to me that this proposal clearly fits within that role,” Oakley said.

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