Charleston County Council Faces Hard Choices

March 25, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveThe Charleston County Finance Committee was treated earlier this month with a review of the current year’s budget, along with projections for the future.

It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Revenues for FY2010 are running below original estimates. However, the projected shortfall of $2.9 million is expected to be made up through additional cost reductions but without significant impact on services.

Still, the staff was less than happy about the outlook for 2011 as some drastic measures may be called for.

First, for the current fiscal year, revenue from property taxes, licenses and intergovernmental receipts are running lower than projected.

In large measure, the decline in property taxes reflects the delay in receipts rather than any decrease in the county’s billings.

Reassessments, delinquencies and foreclosures have slowed the flow and although most property taxes will ultimately be recovered, a greater proportion of those expected in 2010 will flow into subsequent years.

The decline in licenses and permits, and intergovernmental are largely reflections of the state of the economy.

In discussing the outlook in 2011, staff anticipated additional declines in property taxes, fees, licenses,  fines and forfeitures.

Currently, costs were projected to rise in 2011, partly because of mandatory increases. Projected costs exceed projected revenues by $8.3 million.

Cost cutting measures made in the last two years is expected to continue.

The county was not allowed to sustain a deficit and a balance had to be achieved, so council has some hard choices to make as it goes into the budget process in the coming months.

Among options:

 

  • No new public services without corresponding revenues;
  • Shift costs outside the General Fund;
  • Increase fees and establish new fees;
  • Prioritize or reduce public services;
  • Reduce personnel cost;
  • Increase millage rate; and
  • Enact an across-the-board pay cut.

 

Staff gave no hint of what course it favored but indicated each measure would be painful.

Council members gave no indication as to the action they might take,al though council member J. Elliott Summey said that staff was too pessimistic in its projections.

Assistant County Administrator Keith Bustraan responded, saying that projections over the past two years had been too optimistic and inferred that staff did want to be bitten again.

Little was said about projections for 2012. On the face of the figures staff presented, it may be a more difficult year than that projected for 2011.

Staff is projecting a further fall in revenue, again anticipating a further plunge in property taxes and intergovernmental transfers. There was no discussion of costs. Crossing the 2011 bridge has to tackled first.

Warwick Jones is a resident of Charleston and has been involved with a number of area organizations, including the Charleston County Greenbelt Advisory Board and the Preservation Society of Charleston.