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Budget: County raises taxes, but cuts spending

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County property taxes will increase by 1 percent, and Midway Fire tax by 1.6 percent in a $76.9 million budget approved by members of County Council this week.

Total expenditures represent a 1.6 percent decrease, $1.2 million, from the past year’s budget of $78.2 million. County Administrator Sel Hemingway said governmental accounting makes year-to-year comparisons tricky. Grants, rather than tax money, can be used to fund items, he said, and projects can be carried over from year to year. “Fluctuation in a budget comparison from year to year doesn’t mean you spent more tax dollars or undertook more projects than normal,” he said.

This year’s budget will require fewer funds from county reserves to balance. Last year’s budget used about $700,000 from the county fund balance, and this year’s budget will draw just over $500,000. It is projected to be $8.8 million at the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Revenue from taxes on real property is projected to increase 3.3 percent to just over $14 million and on vehicles, 6.3 percent to slightly over $1 million in the budget. Total tax revenue is projected at $16.3 million for the coming year as opposed to $15.8 million in the fiscal year ending today. Other revenue comes from fees, fines and capital projects funds.

The county tax rate will be 58 mills, plus 3.2 mills for solid waste recycling and collection for all residents not living within the limits of Georgetown or Andrews. The rate is up from 57.4 mills last year.

Midway Fire millage will increase from 11.8 mils last year to 12.5 mils for 2016-17. Costs are projected to increase from $3.73 million to $3.96 million with most of the difference being made up from the district’s fund balance.

Projected revenue from fees indicate optimism that the county will experience growth in the next 12 months. The budget projects 2.2 percent growth in building permits, 9.4 percent in recording fees and 5.0 percent in documentary stamp fees. Recording fees indicate the number of real estate transactions, and documentary stamps indicate the value of transactions. Revenue from building permits dipped last year without any big construction projects in the county. County Administrator Sel Hemingway said the numbers gave him confidence in the forecast used to project the county budget despite a projected 25 percent increase in workers compensation costs and the continuing costs of salary increases approved in phases in 2014. Most county employees will get an increase in pay beginning Friday.

Hemingway said the county would have minimum cash flow loss from cleaning up after last October’s historic floods. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursed the county for equipment and personnel used in the crisis. The county experienced another year benefitting from low fuel prices after budgeting for a 20 percent increase.

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