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Winter storm: Cleanup costs put $500K dent in budget

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Council members were told this week that without financial assistance from the state the county’s cost of cleaning up damage from February’s ice storm will be more than $500,000.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 85 percent of the total cleanup cost, now estimated at more than $4 million.

“We are still awaiting information to make a final adjustment for the impact of ice storm Pax,” County Administrator Sel Hemingway told council members this week. “We are still trying to determine if the state will help with the costs. Traditionally, they have participated at a 50 percent rate. The indication now is there will be no participation.”

Hemingway said without the state’s help the county will pay between $500,000 and $600,000 as its share of the cleanup bill. That will affect numbers in the budget, he said.

County Council members were presented with a proposed $68 million budget Tuesday that includes a millage increase from 53.9 to 54.9. A mill is equal to $1 of tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value. Half the increase will go into the general fund and 30 percent will go to law enforcement. The Bureau of Aging Services and the landfill will each get 10 percent of the increase.

The county’s budget reflects the second round of raises implemented after a wage and salary study was conducted to determine the cost of retaining trained fire, emergency medical and law enforcement personnel. The county implemented raises for more than 500 employees following the study. They will get a 2.5 percent increase July 1 as part of that package.

The county’s general fund will increase by $1.6 million to $24.9 million under the proposed budget. Midway Fire District’s budget will increase by $255,000 to $3.6 million. Expenditures for stormwater management will decrease by almost $1.8 million to $1.5 million, a 55 percent reduction. Total expenditures will go up $2.8 million, from $65.2 to $68 million, or 4.3 percent.

The sheriff’s office will get $379,000 more than last year’s $11.4 million in order to pay four additional employees to run a fifth console at the county 911 call center. Hemingway said the new employees will help eliminate overtime at the call center. “The sheriff said it was an urgent issue,” Hemingway told council members. An analysis of the operation indicated an additional console and personnel were needed to handle the calls. The four will be paid as uncertified telecommunicators until their training is complete.

The other new employees in next year’s budget will join the library staff. Five additional workers will be added to the Waccamaw branch library staff. They will be paid from Capital Improvement Program funds. A sixth employee involves the bookmobile operator going from part-time to full-time.

Hemingway said the solicitor had complained about proposed reductions that cut his budget to $913,000. He told council members he would meet with the solicitor and make any needed adjustments by third reading.

The budget will be placed on public display in branch libraries for 10 days after third reading June 24 for public comment.

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