York County looking to streamline in 2014-15

jzou@heraldonline.comFebruary 10, 2014 

— York County’s budget season kicked off Monday, with County Manager Bill Shanahan emphasizing streamlining and collaboration as ways to reduce spending.

“This budget process is not a wish list,” said Shanahan, who asked each of the county’s 40 or so department heads to begin evaluating needs for the next decade at a meeting in York. “Nice to have,” he said, isn’t justification for equipment, salaries or facilities.

Last year, the York County Council raised property taxes to make payments on debt and to give employees a 1 percent cost-of-living raise in the county’s $391 million budget for 2013-14, which includes operating and capital costs.

The tax hike was a departure from previous years, when the county used its savings to cover operational costs. So-called “reserve funds” typically are used to pay for unforeseen expenses or emergencies.

While the County Council didn’t implement a hiring freeze last year, it also didn’t dedicate money to pay for open positions. Since the last budget, some departments have proposed piecemeal hires to the council.

Shanahan declined to make public on Monday any of the information he gave to the department leaders, including how big the 2014-15 budget might be, whether a tax hike might be needed or whether employees will receive pay raises.

Part of this year’s budgeting process will include an assessment of whether new hires are needed, Shanahan said. An ongoing facilities study analyzing county properties also will help prioritize projects, he added.

The budget process will take about four months and include several County Council workshops, starting in March. Final council approval for the budget is scheduled for mid-June.

Before this year, council budget workshops took place further along in the process around early May, but several council members asked for a more inclusive schedule that provides time for council members and staff to get on the same page.

This year’s process will take a critical look at capital improvements including renovations, expansions and road construction and maintenance programs, Shanahan said.

Staff also will evaluate changes to employee benefits as the cost of health care and pensions continue to increase.

Capping off 2013-2014

When the County Council met last week, it gave initial approval to an amendment to the current county budget, which runs through June.

The council signed off on using nearly $300,000 in hospitality tax money to pay for projects that had been approved in previous years but remain incomplete – including improvements to the Catawba Cultural Center, the Old Town Amphitheater and county trails.

The total fund for hospitality tax projects sits at $1.9 million. Hospitality taxes are paid primarily by restaurants and hotels in the county’s unincorporated areas.

The council also approved moving $1.1 million from the Rural Fire Board Fund to speed up construction of a new fire training facility, which will include a vehicle storage building, a fire training tower and emergency generator.

The council is expected to give those changes final approval in March.

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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