Lexington taxes rising to pay for cops, firefighters and medical care

tflach@thestate.comMay 21, 2013 

— Lexington County residents will dig a little deeper into their wallets in coming months to pay primarily for law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical care.

A divided County Council on Tuesday settled on a $110 million spending plan that includes a property tax increase of $12.15 on a home valued for tax purposes at $100,000, the maximum raise allowed by the state tax cap.

Highlights of the financial plan for the year starting July 1 include:

Four more deputies, well short of the 16 that Sheriff James Metts sought

•  10 more firefighters, part of an effort to reduce response time to blazes to help lower insurance bills for homeowners and businesses.

•  Four more 911 call takers, three more paramedics and four more prison guards, all extra staff officials say are needed to keep pace with steady population growth.

“Everybody wants services, and we’re trying hard to give it to them,” council chairman Bill Banning of West Columbia said.

The tax increase was approved 5-4 amid disagreement over a plan making the 1,400 county workers eligible for pay raises of up to 3 percent. The pay raise comes a year after none was given.

Some council members wanted to cut the maximum pay raise to 1 percent, saying the savings could pay for service improvements and comes with a much smaller tax hike.

“Nobody likes a tax increase,” councilman Jim Kinard of Swansea said. “I can stomach a small increase.”

Council members Todd Cullum of Cayce, Brad Matthews of Irmo and Frank Townsend of Batesburg-Leesville joined Kinard in opposing the tax hike.

The $12.15 increase is a little more than a dollar higher than the raise approved last year.

Metts called the extra deputies a start, saying it is all that’s possible due to tight finances largely due to cuts in state aid to counties.

The four deputies probably will be assigned to the Chapin area, he said. A related search for a regional headquarters in the county’s northern edge continues.

Metts also plans to seek federal aid to add eight more deputies as soon as this fall.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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