By Marc Knapp
The 2011 Charleston city budget was put to bed last week, but it was not firmly tucked in.
In fact, Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie wanted to rip off the sheets and remake the bed, though it appears soothing words from Chief Financial Officer Stephen Bedard and Mayor Joe Riley will allow the budget to peacefully repose without disturbance through subsequent readings.
While total revenue and spending were down only slightly from the previous year, the city was hard tasked to achieve a balance for the upcoming budget year without fee and property tax increases.
There were spending cutbacks, with the most severe being in personnel, and through early retirement. Despite the cuts, some seemed to believe the budget wasn’t austere enough as there are concerns that the coming year may be more difficult than 2010.
Gregorie, reading from a prepared speech, was critical of the budget and in particular some of the cutbacks related to social services – including the Red Cross, Black Expo and homelessness. He said that spending should be restored to prior levels and that staff should also be given a 1 percent across-the-board raise.
Gregorie also said that funds should be used to pay down debt and to create a “Rainy Day” fund.
To pay for all of this, the city should cut “operating costs” by 10 percent, he suggested. His definition of operating costs seemed to be the residual of total costs after subtracting wages and salaries.
Gregorie estimated “operating costs” at $35 million.
Bedard said this was the first he had heard of Gregorie’s proposal.
Arbitrary cuts can’t be made across the board, he said. For example, to cut fuel costs by 10 percent would imperil many essential services such as trash collection and police. And besides, some items such as Black Expo had not been cut.
Funding was shifted to another part of the budget. The mayor spoke in similar vein. It was agreed that Gregorie should meet with Bedard and staff to discuss his issues.
Councilman Gary White Jr. had a number of questions on budget items which were easily answered by Bedard. He had no philosophical issues. But Councilman Timothy Mallard did
Mallard, following on a comment from Councilman Dean Reigel, said that not enough was being done to attract to new business to Charleston.
“No new money is coming in,” he said. “We need an economic development policy. The city has no policy. North Charleston, the county and the state have economic development committees, but the city doesn’t.”
Riley took issue with Mallard’s statement. Economic development is dealt with by the Department of Design Development and Preservation, he said. As well, the mayor is active in promoting development, as is staff working under the Digital Corridor, he added.
Riley spoke of the success in attracting investment in Charleston and the greater Charleston area, adding that businesses locating in the Greater Charleston area bring benefits to Charleston itself.