Beaufort County's $99.3M budget plan coming together

cconley@islandpacket.comJune 18, 2013 

Beaufort County's proposed $99.35 million budget for 2013-14 is nearly finished, and property owners should prepare for slightly higher county taxes.

The latest projections show that the owner of a $200,000 owner-occupied home will owe about $15 more next year in county property taxes.

The increase on vacation or rental homes of the same value would be about $23, according to deputy county administrator Bryan Hill. Those account for about 70 percent of all county properties.

If approved, the tax increase would be the county's first in five years.

Thus far, the prospect of higher county taxes has produced little public reaction, Councilman Jerry Stewart said.

"I think I have gotten, at most, six emails. I am not getting any really at all," he said.

County Council members spent nearly 90 minutes debating various aspects of the budget during Monday's Finance Committee meeting, resolving several issues in the process.

"We probably have 95 percent of the budget squared away," said Finance Committee Chairman Stu Rodman. "We probably have four to five line items left to talk about a little more and finalize, but we are at the finish line."

A revised budget is expected June 24, and the council is expected to approve the spending plan that night.

The current $97.1 million budget will expire when the fiscal year ends June 30. The new budget takes effect July 1.

Highlights of the proposed budget include:

  • A 2-percent raise for Beaufort County's roughly 925 employees.
  • The addition of 24-hour ambulance crews in Burton and the Sun City area.

    • $125,000 for the Military Enhancement Committee, although some of the money might not be needed until next year.
  • An increase in library hours from 40 to 50 per week at the five county branches.

  • A $300,000 allocation for a Disabilities and Special Needs group home in southern Beaufort County.

  • New courtroom security and technology upgrades.

Unresolved items include $2 million allocations to Technical College of the Lowcountry and University of South Carolina Beaufort, and $100,000 to Beaufort Memorial Hospital to support indigent care.

A $75,000 allocation to the Hilton Head Island Recreation Center also is up in the air, as is $200,000 for county economic development.

Stewart said he believes the budget will pass on third and final reading next week, although he expects some members won't support it.

Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch on Monday suggested she will vote against it unless spending is cut.

"People keep saying to me, 'Will you please stop spending?' " she said. 'We've stopped spending, why haven't y'all stopped spending?'"

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