Richland County Budget

Richland budget proposal relies on higher fees

dhinshaw@thestate.com May 9, 2013 

— A moderate property-tax increase paired with an incremental rise in most fees would allow Richland County to rebuild its savings and boost employee salaries.

Tuesday, Tony McDonald presented his first proposed budget as new county administrator.

The owner of a $100,000 home would pay an extra $6.80 a year, while fees – from marriage licenses to the charge for calling an ambulance – would grow by the inflation rate of 2.1 percent.

McDonald said fees have not been adjusted in years.

All told, the general-fund budget of just under $150 million would represent an increase of $3 million.

School budgets are not included at the early phase of the budget-writing process, nor are a host of other agencies that have their own property-tax levies.

Two-thirds of the new money in the general fund would go to employee benefits – 2 percent raises, designating the day after Christmas a holiday and restructuring starting salaries to make them more competitive.

McDonald said he did a five-year trend analysis to take $800,000 from county departments that consistently requested more money than they spent. And he sought to reverse the raiding of reserves to meet the budget: While the county took $6.7 million from savings this year, McDonald’s proposed budget would use $3.9 million next year, a point he hit on more than once during his two-hour presentation to Richland County Council.

Said Councilman Paul Livingston, the county’s longest-serving member: “It’s a reasoned, responsible budget, taking into account the county’s needs as well as taxpayer concerns.

“If we can keep it that way,” he added with a laugh.

Council members have until May 21 to submit individual budget requests, which typically shifts money around and sometimes increases the bottom line.

And McDonald’s proposed budget does not address the hospitality-tax fund, money generated by restaurant meals. There’s sure to be a free-for-all for the $4.5 million that had been set aside for a northeast tournament park the council has decided not to build.

Reach Hinshaw at (804) 771-8641.

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