St. Helena councilman McBride urges higher raises for Beaufort County workers

cconley@islandpacket.comJuly 20, 2012 

After four years without a broad-based salary increase, Beaufort County's 1,144 full-time workers received a 2-percent raise as part of the $97-million, 2012-13 budget adopted in late June.

About three weeks later, the S.C. legislature approved a $6.6-billion budget that included a 3-percent increase for state workers.

Now, at least one county councilman believes the county should match that amount for its employees -- St. Helena Island Democrat William McBride thinks it's only fair.

"The economy is doing somewhat better, and to be fair to our workers I think we at least need to discuss it," McBride said this week, noting that most costs have increased more than 2 percent since the 2008 salary adjustment.

"If we as the County Council don't address the issue, who going to address it?" McBride said.

On Wednesday, McBride asked County Council Finance Committee members to discuss raising the cost-of-living-adjustment to 3 percent. Although there was no discussion at the meeting, it's likely to be a tough sell, according to county administrators and fellow councilmen.

"I don't think it's going to go anywhere because the county budget has already been set," Councilman Paul Sommerville said. "... We would have to go in and completely re-do it."

It's not clear where the additional money would come. What is clear is the cost: $550,000 more a year.

Although Beaufort County received almost $1 million more in state funds than last year, that money has already been accounted for, said David Starkey, the county's chief financial officer. In fact, he says the county budgeted for about $100,000 more than it received.

"There is no windfall or anything of that nature," he said.

County administrator Gary Kubic also opposes boosting raises. Any additional funds in the budget, he said, would be better spent on one-time expenses than on a recurring expenses such as salary.

"I don't really think it would be a wise idea, (even if) we had additional money ... to throw it into wages at this time," he said.

If the issue of salaries does come up later, McBride may have support from an unlikely source.

Councilman Brian Flewelling, who is among the most conservative council members, said he is willing to consider higher raises.

"Frankly, at this point, I would be looking for a source of revenue for it. I am not opposed to it per se," he said.

One option, Flewelling said, was to find additional cuts in the budget to offset the increase.

At the very least. McBride wants council to talk about the issue.

"I don't really know if anyone on council agrees," he said. "I hope they will, but we at least owe the employees a fair discussion on the issue."

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