Beaufort County Council voted unanimously Monday to join a lawsuit aimed at keeping local tax money out of next year's presidential primaries.
Spartanburg and Greenville counties are preparing to sue the S.C. Election Commission, which plans to enlist counties to run the Jan. 21 GOP primary, and a Democratic one if necessary.
County election officials argue they're not legally obligated to conduct the primaries. They also object that thousands of local tax dollars could subsidize what they say are internal party events.
In 2008, for instance, Beaufort County spent $230,247 to hold Republican and Democratic primaries. The state reimbursed $76,109, for a final cost to county taxpayers of more than $154,000.
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Last week, the S.C. Republican Party agreed to reimburse counties for all "legitimate" primary expenses, but the move didn't placate county officials.
Before agreeing to join the suit Monday, council discussed the issue with attorneys in closed session. No debate took place during the public vote.
The motion stipulated that funding for the litigation will come from the county legal department's existing budget. Council Chairman Weston Newton said after the meeting that he didn't have an estimate for the legal expenses, but he doesn't expect it to cost a great deal, especially now that four counties are involved. Newton said Chester County plans to join, as well.
County attorney Lad Howell said the suit has not yet been filed.
IN OTHER ACTION
Under the current form of government, the county auditor and treasurer are elected.
The proposed form of government allows counties to choose whether to elect or appoint the two positions.
But council voted 9-2, with Newton and Councilwoman Laura Von Harten opposed, to amend the ballot question so the positions must be appointed if voters approve.
State law requires a pay hike for magistrates when a county's population tops 150,000, as Beaufort County's did during the 2010 Census.
On a 10-1 vote, with Councilman Steve Baer dissenting, council approved that raise retroactive to July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. For the 11 judges, that will equal $72,159.83 this year.
Two magistrates, however, say the increase should be effective March 22, when the 2010 Census results were certified for Beaufort County. The additional raise would cost $20,260.26.
Members of council's Finance Committee said they could not vote for the additional pay when other county employees have not been given raises in years.
"To me, it just doesn't make sense to be pushing for this adjustment starting back in March," said Councilman Bill McBride.