Charleston County Warned of Impending Crunch

The NerveAfter a rather vanilla Charleston County Council finance committee meeting on Sept. 16, it appeared the Sept. 30 session would be similar.

Most of it was, but a presentation by a representative of the South Carolina Association of Counties got the attention of many at the meeting.

Robert Croom, director of legal and legislative affairs for the association, told the committee that the state faced a budget shortfall of at least $1.1 billion next year.

He said that most sources of revenue were expected to hold up or decline only marginally, but that there would no stimulus funds. Croom said he expected that as a result there would be sharp cutback in spending and that some agencies would be closed.

The implication was that counties would have to pick up the shortfall if they wanted to maintain services. And indeed there was the question as to the level of direct funding for Charleston County.

Croom then went on to talk about possible changes in the tax system. He made no forecasts but indicated that some legislators want to raise the sales tax, some to extend it over all items and some to eliminate company tax and replace it with a sales tax.

Any of the proposed changes would be a heavy slog, Croom said. But he added that if the sales tax were extended to all items – particularly food and cars – it would boost the local option sales tax for the county and provide relief for property tax payers.

Croom estimated that food represented about one-third of all consumer purchases.

For the record, the state budget for 2009-10 was $20.69 billion and included federal funds of $7.8 billion. A shortfall of $1.1 billion would represent 5 percent of this year’s budget.