The first draft of Beaufort County's 2015 budget calls for a slight property tax increase, but council members say they hope to avoid it.
The proposed increase would tack about $5 more onto a tax bill for a $200,000 owner-occupied home, according to a presentation Monday to the council's Finance Committee. The increase would bring in about $260,000 more to next year's $100 million budget, county officials said.
The 2015 fiscal year begins July 1.
The next budget must reflect an increase of about $1.6 million in the cost of health insurance, workers' compensation and retirement benefits for county employees, county administrator Gary Kubic said.
To do that, the county will hold all of its departments at their current funding levels, enact a hiring freeze and reduce trash-center hours, Kubic said.
In addition, the county intends to maintain or reduce its funding to agencies that include the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office, the Hilton Head Island Recreation Center, the Technical College of the Lowcountry and the Lowcountry Council of Governments.
"This is probably the hardest budget I've had to put together in my seven years here in Beaufort County," deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said. "The numbers are pretty tight and pretty lean."
Some council members said more cuts could be made to prevent a tax increase -- for example, by denying requests for another DNA analyst and staff attorney for the Sheriff's Office.
"I still think there's room in there to still make it neutral," Councilman Steve Fobes said.
However, council members cautioned that the Beaufort County School District faces a potential $10 million cost increase, which could also lead to a rise in school operations taxes. Those are charged on non-owner-occupied homes, such as vacation homes and rental properties.
Most of that cost increase is caused by requirements the state has imposed on the district but not provided money for, and rising costs from increasing enrollment, superintendent Jeff Moss has said.
"It's the elephant in the room," Councilman Rick Caporale said of the school budget. "It is the single biggest problem this year and where it's going to come from."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.