Six ways next year’s Richland County budget affects you June 17, 2013 

  • County continues collecting road fee

    People who own cars in Richland County will continue paying $20 a year to maintain county roads and drainage.

    County Council did not consider removing the road maintenance fee, which produces $5.7 million annually, as part of discussions of the coming year’s budget.

    Councilman Norman Jackson had vowed to repeal the annual fee, which shows up on property-tax bills, after voters approved an extra penny sales tax for transportation improvements.

    His colleagues didn’t show much interest in discussing the topic, and it didn’t warrant a mention during budget meetings that cranked up in May.

    Last week, Jackson said he still thinks it’s a valid topic for discussion.

    “I don’t think we should be paying double taxes,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to charge a penny sales tax and then charge the road maintenance fee.”

    He said he still plans to bring up suspension of the fee, collected since 2009.

    The budget continues to rely on collection of a countywide fee, generating $5.7 million a year, to fund the public works department’s road program. About 40 percent of the money pays salaries for crews and managers, officials have said.

    Administrator Tony McDonald said the staff has tried to reinforce the distinction between the two: The penny sales tax’s $1 billion budget does not cover ongoing, routine maintenance of the road and drainage system, but instead will fund large construction projects.

    The two sources of money address different functions, McDonald said.

    After the referendum’s success, the city of Columbia and Richland County both revoked fees they had in place to pay for public transit. The sales-tax will pay for bus service now.

    Columbia City Council had collected a 2 percent fee on utility bills, while the county had collected a yearly transit fee considered the most-hated tax in county history.

    Dawn Hinshaw

Modest property tax and fee increases are in the works as Richland County Council prepares to wrap up budget discussions Wednesday.

Here are a half-dozen things in the works affecting community life:

Hidden fees: A 2 percent increase in the cost of doing business with Richland County – through fees charged to everyone from developers to bridegrooms – will bring in an extra $1 million a year. Calling an ambulance? That’s $561, an increase of about $11. Getting married? You’ll pay an extra buck, to $41. From here on out, fees will be adjusted a little each year by the rate of inflation.

Technology on wheels: Ninety digital cameras and 50 laptops will be installed in sheriff’s deputies’ cars as part of a $722,000 expenditure to improve technology over the next three years. Believe it or not, the department’s still using VHS machines. “The technology’s older than the deputies,” said Chief Deputy Steve Birnie.

Voting costs: The council singled out the county elections office for a hold-the-line budget of $1.2 million, the same amount it got this year. That cut voting machines and related equipment, though new director Howard Jackson (who starts work Monday) could make a pitch for more machines later on.

Hospitality attacks: A philosophical debate over use of $5.4 million collected on restaurant meals – to big-city projects with proven track records, or to new venues in rural and suburban areas? – was the brouhaha of the budget. In the end, the council punted. But hold tight for October, the deadline for a newly established council committee to release its recommendations for the future.

Taxpayers catch a break: Assistant director Kenya Bryant said the agency needed at least $800,000 to run a new rec center opening next year. But Auditor Paul Brawley saved the Recreation Commission from becoming a political football with figures showing natural growth in property values would cover the agency’s extra bills.

Cops in schools: Still unresolved is who’ll foot the bill for 14 new school resource officers. Richland 1 wants an armed officer at every school. But the $1.6 million was not included in the budget as the school district braces for federal budget cuts. Will the county take up the slack?

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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