County Council already looking to next year's budget

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comDecember 25, 2013 

Beaufort County Council is trying to get a jump on the next fiscal year's budget with a workshop in early February to discuss its 2015 financial goals.

The 2015 fiscal year begins July 1, 2014.

Councilmen Steve Fobes and Rick Caporale, both of Hilton Head Island and members of the council's finance committee, are working to refine the budget process. Complications and confusion reigned at times last year, when reassessment cast uncertainty on tax rates and some council members seemed unsure whether they were working off the most current drafts of the budget.

The confusion was perhaps best illustrated just months after the new budget was adopted, when it became apparent that the council had not appropriated enough money to extend county library hours, as intended.

"One of the criticisms we heard last year was that there were some bits and pieces that weren't connected with each other that kind of floated," council Chairman Paul Sommerville said. "I'm just saying we can do better."

At a council committee meeting last week, county administrator Gary Kubic held up 42 pages of memos and documents introduced by council members during this year's budget discussion. They contained numbers had not been double-checked by county staff before the council considered them.

Former Councilman Steve Baer said he was so frustrated with the process, he resigned at the end of July.

Fobes, who replaced Baer on council, and Caporale met several times before the holidays to discuss ways to streamline budgeting and will pitch their ideas to the other council members in the spring, Caporale said.

The February workshop is not a new idea, however.

Typically, the council starts the budget process with a discussion of goals during its annual, three-day retreat, Sommerville said. This year's retreat will be held the second week of February, but a location hasn't been decided upon, Sommerville said.

It takes county departments and staff several months to work out details. Back-and-forth between the council and county staff makes tracking budget drafts from meeting to meeting crucial to an orderly process, Caporale said.

A budget ledger could be used to list several years' history for each department, current appropriations, and real-time additions and subtractions as the budget progresses, Caporale said.

"We're also looking at a variation of the school district's (budget) presentation," Caporale said. "We like the way they do their presentation of numbers, highlighting certain line items and new appropriations."

The process likely will include some lengthy, detailed public work sessions, according to Sommerville and Councilman Jerry Stewart.

"I think we had some problems last year that need to be worked out, there's no doubt about that," Stewart said. "But if you go back to prior years, I think things were more orderly."

"I just think we're fine tuning it, and I think we're going to do a better job this year," Sommerville added.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

Related content:

Beaufort County plans to extend library hours in January, Nov. 12, 2013

Libraries can't extend hours, despite budget bump from council, Sept. 8, 2013

Did Beaufort County fund more library hours? Despite budget's approval, uncertainty remains, July 6, 2013

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