Editorial: all the new budgets are final for new fiscal year that just started
Everybody has new budgets for the 2016-2017 fiscal year that began Friday. At least the public agencies do – Clinton City Council, School District 56, Laurens County Council, Laurens County Water and Sewer District and others. The budget votes by the school board, the LCWSC and county council were all unanimous – all the members who were present for the final votes voted aye. The Clinton budget passed 4-3. School employees will receive a raise, as will those who work for Clinton, Laurens County and LCWSC. Laurens County Council receives the award for creative revenue production. County employees haven’t received a pay hike in five years, officials said. A 50-cent per hour increase proposed by Chairman Joe Wood would cost $508,514. Wood proposed a 4-mil property tax increase to pay for the raises, but state law prohibits governments from increasing taxes more than the rate of inflation, so that idea was kyboshed. So, county council increased the capital expenditures tax millage from 4 mils to 5.5 mils and is going to apply the money to making additional lease payments before they are due, giving the county more money down the road for other things – like raises. Plus, council voted to take $500,000 from reserves to help pay for the raises. Current general fund taxes will remain at 63.1 mils and council is keeping the additional 6 mils for putting money back into the reserve account – a practice started several years back when the county was in much, much worse financial condition. It is doubtful those 6 mils will ever be cut from the budget now that council has come to depend on that money to keep things running. Plus, there’s the 5.5 mils for capital equipment purchases. LCWSC is raising sewer rates, the City of Clinton is increasing sanitation rates. The school board kept all taxes, its only source of local funding, at current levels. If county employees haven’t received a raise in five years, they deserve one. But 50 cents an hour is not going to stop – or even slow down – the out-migration of trained county workers to other jobs. “When you lose a good employee, it costs to replace that person,” Wood said in a letter to the editor published June 22 and he’s right. Small cities and small counties are like small newspapers – a training ground for employees to find a bigger, better-paying job. There isn’t much that can be done to stop that. There will always be more money available somewhere else and the grass will always appear greener one county over. But public employees have very good benefits – beyond the pay. Their health insurance in better and cheaper than that offered by most private businesses. Government workers have a very generous holiday and vacation package that, again, isn’t matched by many private companies. So, while we can understand the desire by councils and boards to give raises to workers every year, we don’t feel sorry for them if that isn’t possible. Private businesses have taken it on the chin – financially – since 2008 and many are just now seeing an uptick. Some didn’t survive at all and those that did learned to be more efficient with fewer workers. County Council member Diane Anderson, from Clinton, has become a more vocal voice of reason as council wrestles with complex issues and we appreciate her questions and votes during recent discussions. And it’s been interesting to watch the progression that Wood has made transitioning from a council member representing his district to council chairman. “I have to do what I think is best for the county citizens as a whole,” Wood said in his June 22 letter to the editor. Later in the letter, he said, “I discovered a long time ago that it does no good to just say no on County Council. You have to compromise and get the best for your cause.” And while we would argue it took the chairman far too many years to come to that sensible realization, we are glad he now understands the value of compromise and realizes sometimes you have to settle for less than everything you would like. There are others – particularly on the state and federal level – who would do well and serve our country well to learn the same lesson.