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Budget season: County sees hopeful signs for increased revenue

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Sel Hemingway says he is approaching Georgetown County’s upcoming budget year conservatively but economic indicators are looking up.

Construction and tourism fees and taxes are rising, but Hemingway, the county administrator, worries about the county’s share of state funding, health insurance costs and the price of fuel.

In an annual review he calls Pluff Mud Economics, Hemingway told County Council members not to get too excited about a 58.2 percent increase in fees related to building permits. “This includes one unusual item: a major addition to the hospital,” he said. “Still without it, there was a 38 percent increase in fees — $777,000 compared to $491,000.”

Other rising indicators include:

• Documentary stamp fees, tied to the value of a transaction, have increased by 18.9 percent, though many have been small projects over the past 12 months — $454,000 compared to $382,000.

• Recording fees, a transaction indicator, are up 15.4 percent — $196,000 compared to $169,000.

• Landfill construction and demolition waste disposal have climbed 18.8 percent in the last 12 months — 22,376 tons compared to 18,832 last year.

• The county accommodations tax collections have exceeded their peak year of 2008-09 with collections in the past 12 months — $2.77 million compared to $1.64 million a year ago. Hospitality taxes are showing a similar trend, up 7 percent, with collections in the past 12 months — $2.15 million compared to $2 million a year ago.

“We are confident we will be able to finish the year within budget,” Hemingway said. “There are some indications that revenue could be down slightly but expenditures will be as well.”

Hemingway said he expects local government funding from the state to be equal to last year’s levels at a minimum. While rising fuel costs are a concern, last year’s budget estimates of fuel costs deviated only .17 percent from actual thanks to some “good guessing.” The county’s share of the retirement system contribution for law enforcement officers and firefighters will increase from 12.3 percent to 12.84 percent. Workers compensation premiums are expected to fall in 2014 due to increased diligence by employees.

Hemingway said the state health insurance plan, which covers most county employees and retirees under age 65, has been grandfathered against implementing the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act until 2014. “The legislature is already examining options to hold down premium increases without eliminating benefits not mandated,” he said.

The county anticipates slight increases in growth: 1 percent in 2104; 1.5 percent in 2015; 2.5 percent in 2016 and 3 percent in 2017 and 2018.

Hemingway said the county would keep its goal of maintaining an $8 million balance in its general fund.

The county budget schedule calls for a draft to be completed by April 23 with a work session April 30. A public hearing and second reading will be held May 28 with third reading and adoption June 11.

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