May 12, 2014

York County Council mulls property tax hike

The York County Council considered a property tax increase during a Monday night budget session.

The York County Council considered a property tax increase during a Monday night budget session, relaying concerns over reduced state funding and continued “explosive” growth.

Under a staff-recommended increase, residents could pay close to $6 more annually on a $20,000 vehicle and nearly $20 more on a $100,000 residential home.

Staff vouched for the increase as a way to maintain a sufficient reserve fund to cover hefty capital projects and unanticipated costs, as well as balance increased demand and costs for public services.

The council will hold a second vote on the budget on Monday before a public forum at the end of May. A third and final reading is slated for mid-June.

Last year, the council approved a slimmer increase that amounted to $6 more annually on a $100,000 home. The hike provided employees with a 1 percent raise and helped cover county debt costs.

The proposed 2014-2015 budget will hire a handful of state-mandated staff and fund basic services such as police and courts, but it will also provide staff with a 3 percent raise adjusted for inflation.

“Five years from now, we want to make sure we made the right decision,” said County Manager Bill Shanahan during a Wednesday meeting where staff specifically recommended a tax hike.

Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said he’s on the same page with staff on the increase.

“When you’re cutting into basic services government has, you have to make the painful decision,” he said.

Blackwell, who has described himself as the taxpayers’ watchdog, said the increase manages the county’s long-term prospects responsibly. “Now is the time to prepare for the future.”

Without the increase, staff estimated the county will exhaust its reserve funds within the next five years to cover additional operational costs. The county hasn’t dipped into its reserves for that purpose in the last three years, noted several councilmen.

“Most people want big service and low taxes,” said Councilman Curwood Chappell. “Today, that’s an impossibility.”

But others on the council were less gung-ho about raising property taxes, preferring cutbacks to balance the budget.

“I just want the basic core functions of government,” said Councilman Bruce Henderson. “As lean as possible.”

Henderson said he’d prefer little to no tax increases and is willing to consider staffing reductions. Councilman Joe Cox took a similar position on budget cuts but didn’t provide specifics.

Councilman Michael Johnson was less candid about where he stands on the proposal, noting that increased costs derive from decreased state funding. “It’s not York County that has a spending problem,” he said. “It’s Columbia.”

The proposed budget would fund only six additional staff members out of more than 40 positions requested by county departments – 20 of which were sought by the York County Sheriff’s Office. The Department of Public Safety Communications requested four additional 911 dispatchers.

Four of the approved positions would be detention officers, while four part-time positions would be spread out across four county departments.

Comparatively, the Rock Hill City Council is considering 18 new police and court positions this budget season.

Blackwell noted the city has several revenue streams and isn’t as reliant on state funding for mandatory services.

Johnson expressed concerns over how the county can remain competitive in areas such as policing when entry-level county deputies make about $6,000 less than their counterparts in Rock Hill.

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