Bill would slash state funding

February 21, 2009 

A proposal that would cost Beaufort County $3 million in state funding would force County Council to make deep cuts to its budget.

The bill, which the state House Ways and Means Committee passed 16-7 Thursday night, calls for a $122 million overall reduction in South Carolina's Local Government Fund. That money is awarded to counties based on their

population.

The county expected to receive $7.1 million next year, but that amount would fall by a little less than $3.1 million if the bill becomes law.

And that would mean tighter times here.

"There'll have to be cuts,"County Council Chairman Weston Newton said Friday at the council's retreat in Bluffton.

Even if council raised taxes by the maximum allowed under state law, Newton said the county would have to significantly scale back spending, which totaled $96 million in this year's budget.

Additionally, Newton said the legislature might take away the county's ability to automatically increase the assessed values of properties when they change hands -- the so-called point-of-sales reassessments. That system bases property values on sale prices. It brought the county $1.5 million in additional revenue this year.

Newton and council Vice Chairman Paul Sommerville said they planned to talk more about how the council might cut its budget today during day 2 of the retreat at the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton.

State Rep. Bill Herbkersman, who sits on Ways and Means but missed Thursday's vote, said that despite the state's looming budget shortfall, he adamantly opposes cutting payments to counties.

"This is, with all due respect to my colleagues, 'punting,'<2009>" he said. "We can't pass our budget cuts down to the counties."

He said he preferred using revenue from a proposed 50-cent increase in the state's cigarette tax to balance the state budget rather than cutting the county payments.

He also praised ongoing local efforts to trim costs.

In the past year, the county has avoided firing emplo in part by leaving vacancies open and shifting employees from departments that are less busy because of the real estate slowdown, according to county administrator Gary Kubic.

"Some legislators may think their counties are wasting money, but Weston (Newton) and Gary (Kubic), they've cut the fat out, they've cut the meat out, and now they're cutting the bone," Herbkersman said.

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