County approves $14 million budget

Tax increase includes 3% pay raise

Barnwell County Council finalized its 2013-14 fiscal year operating budget during a special-called meeting June 20.
The nearly $14 million dollar budget includes a six-mill increase in the annual millage used to calculate property taxes, which will bring in an additional $231,000. Council members plan to use some of the extra money, $126,000, to restore county employees' salaries to the levels they were at four years ago before council imposed a 3 percent reduction in pay.
"That was one of the principle goals that council set early and often," council member Keith Sloan said about restoring employees' pay.
Residents will see a slight increase in their property taxes because of the millage increase, and the amount will vary depending on which part of the county you live in.
Some county departments - Clerk of Court and Solid Waste - will see an increase in funding while others - Detention Center, Sheriff's Department and Public Works - will get the same amount as last year.
The largest source of revenue is from property taxes, predicted to be $5 million. Another $2 million comes from a Department of Energy payment in lieu of taxes for the land the Savannah River Site is on. The county's 1 percent local option sales tax should bring in $920,000, according to budget documents.
The county also plans to receive $830,000 from the state's local government fund. That's a $100,000 increase from last year but is down from the $950,000 the county received two years ago.
The balance of the revenue comes from various places, including jail and landfill fees, building permits, grants and recycling revenue.
Another $450,000 normally set for the hospital operating budget is now included in the county's operating budget. This is because the county sold the hospital to Georgia-based Resurgence Management Company and the millage revenue previously set aside for the hospital will be absorbed into the county's budget from now on.
But that money will not be put to immediate use by the county because, as part of the sale contract, the county agreed to pay RMC subsidies of $450,000 a year for three years.
Also, the county is transferring the two mills used for the hospital's debt payment into the operating budget since the debt has been paid off. It will now go toward county debt.
The largest expense next year for the county is projected to be employee benefits, $2 million worth. This includes retirement, workers compensation and insurance.
Second highest is the Sheriff's Department, which will get $1.7 million. After that it's the Barnwell County Detention Center, set to receive $1.2 million. Another $1 million goes to contracts and grants - some of which is reimbursed - then the next highest is the Solid Waste department at just over $1 million.
The rest of the expenses vary in size - from $500 for the county Soil and Water Conservation District to $213,000 for the tax assessor's office.
The budget was approved unanimously by council. Council member Joe Smith was not at the meeting.
Chairman Freddie Houston praised council members for their efforts on the budget.
"I think everyone of us has fully understood the consequences of the decision in having to do this but yet realized it was the most important thing we need to do," Houston said about the millage increase and restoring employee salaries to 2009 levels.