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May 8, 2014

Richland budget talks begin on austere note; tax hike not recommended

Richland County residents would pay a little more for service-related fees but pay the same in property taxes for county operations next year under the administrator’s recommended budget.

Richland County residents would pay a little more for service-related fees but pay the same in property taxes for county operations next year under the administrator’s recommended budget.

Administrator Tony McDonald outlined his $151.5 million county general budget Thursday as a prelude to County Council debates continuing through mid-June.

In terms of revenues, the budget relies on three strategies:

• Raising fees for services – calling an ambulance, taking out a marriage license or getting a new business license – by 1.5 percent.
• Tapping $2.9 million in savings, less than the amount required to balance the budget each of the last two years
• Lowering property taxes a tad, by less than one-half percent.

Expenditures include:

• One-time bonuses of 1.5 percent for employees who’ve been with the county more than a year
• A total of $900,000 in budget hikes for the sheriff, emergency medical services, solicitor and coroner’s office
• 13 new employees, from secretaries and clerks to custodians

Currently, the county has just under 2,000 employees, McDonald said.

County Council is not required to accept McDonald’s recommendations and, in fact, usually adds on to the preliminary budget.

But he won points for presenting an austere budget; GOP Councilman Greg Pearce said he couldn’t remember another administrator in his 15 years on the council who had suggested cutting property taxes.

“I think we have some challenges ahead, but Mr. McDonald has provided us with an exceptional starting point,” Pearce said. “Council, of course, as in the past, can make adjustments.”

The county’s general operating budget does not include school spending. Neither does it address the dozen county-level agencies with budgets the council technically approves – from the recreation commission and library system to the zoo and community mental-health programs.

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