UNION COUNTY — An estimated $500 increase in the value of a mill and leaving two positions vacant enabled Union County Council to reduce a proposed tax increase by nearly a third.
Council voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to approve a 4.8-mill tax increase, raising the county’s operating tax millage from 101 mills to just under 106 mills for fiscal 2013-2014.
The increase, the county’s first since 2007, was smaller than had originally been expected. Until Tuesday afternoon it looked like council would have to approve a 7.1-mill increase in order to balance the county’s budget as required by state law.
When council began the 2013-2014 budget process, the county was facing a $1,350,741.99 budget deficit which Supervisor Tommy Sinclair attributed to a combination of factors including a reduction in revenue from fee-in-lieu of taxes agreements with industry due to equipment depreciation; the $800,000 cost of implementing the new, federally-mandated narrowband radio communication system; and reductions in federal and state funding. Sinclair said that the State of South Carolina has cut the local government funding the county receives by an average of $500,000 a year over the past several years. He also cited increased fuel, utility, and insurance premium costs are also contributing to the deficit.
Council managed to reduce the projected deficit through a series of cost-cutting measures including reducing the hours of operation at the county’s recycling convenience centers which is projected to save the county $145,000 a year. Despite this, the $12,757,412 budget council approved earlier this year still had a deficit of $360,000 which would require a tax increase in order to be balanced as required by state law.
Until Tuesday afternoon, it looked like council would have to approve a 7.1-mill tax increase to balance the budget, but during a public hearing to receive comments from the public about the increase, Sinclair informed council that a smaller increase was possible.
Sinclair said that initially it appeared the assessed value of a mill was $60,500. However, he said it now appears that it will actually be $61,000. He said this would mean enough revenue to reduce the required increase from 7.1 mills to 6.1 mills.
In addition to the increase in revenue, Sinclair said the amount of millage required to balance the budget could be reduced further if council opted not to fill a vacancy in the Public Works Department and a vacant floating clerk’s position in the courthouse. He said by leaving those positions vacant, together with the increased value of a county tax mill, the size of the proposed tax increase could be further reduced to 4.8 mills.
Sinclair recommended that council approve the lower tax increase as it would balance the budget while still being the right thing to do for the taxpayer.
The motion to approve the 4.8-mill increase was made by councilman Tommy Ford who said that he’d been asked by a number of people if a tax increase was necessary. Ford said his response was that given the cuts in state funding the county had experienced over the past several years a tax increase was unavoidable. He said that while an increase was unavoidable “to keep as much burden off the taxpayers” he was making the motion to raise taxes 4.8 mills rather than 7.1 mills.
For the owner of a home valued at $100,000, a 7.1-mill increase would have meant an additional $28 a year in property taxes. With the 4.8-mill increase, that property owner will pay just under an additional $20 a year.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.