I am sending out my monthly newsletter for April a little later than normal this month (into early May) because I wanted to include an update from our budget workshop from yesterday morning. I believe my most important job as your representative is to be a advocate for our taxpayers and watching how we spend your taxpayer dollars. Below, please find a quick review of some issues that came before council at the April regular council meeting and yesterday’s special budget work session:
At the April regular session, I had an opportunity to publicly recognize and thank the investigators with our Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office who recently made arrests in a human trafficking case in Spartanburg County. Our investigators worked diligently to catch these traffickers and free the victims, who were minors, from sex trafficking. I applaud the great work of our team, the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, and the federal authorities. Homeland Security’s Task Force on Human Trafficking will continue the investigation on this incident due to transportation of the victims across state lines. I will continue to raise awareness about this issue and fight to end human trafficking in our communities.
At the April meeting, council also received a proposal for enhancements to our community parks. This proposal included plans for a new park facility and enhancements to existing parks. Although many of these projects were worthwhile, Councilman Nutt raised concerns about the continuing costs of our parks and whether the increased growth in spending and new projects is sustainable. I, too, am concerned about the growth in our parks spending, which is financed through the parks millage rate and the hospitality tax, dedicated to tourism related projects, when compared to other functions of government that are core items. I believe that we could perform many of these projects, but we need to recognize that we cannot do everything and that we must set priorities when working with limited resources. The hospitality tax is currently set to expire in 15 years, which will need to be offset with a decline in spending on our parks. We need to ensure that our spending going forward is sustainable and reasonable. For that reason, I joined Councilman Nutt in voting against the proposal. The proposal passed 5-2.
Roads and Infrastructure
Council passed a resolution to state our opposition to plans in Columbia that would shift the burden of state roads down to county governments and taxpayers for two reasons: 1. County Council, not legislatively appointed county transportation committees, should have the ability to accept or reject the transfer of these roads; and 2. The state must appropriate enough revenue to cover the costs of the repairs of the roads. I appreciate the House including in their plan that the county councils, not the CTCs, have authority to accept or decline this transfer.
Although not addressed by this resolution, I also am personally opposed to the proposed gas tax increase. First, I believe that any proposed tax increase must be offset by corresponding decrease in taxes. Second, because cars will continue to become more efficient, the gas tax is and will continue to be a declining revenue source. South Carolina is dependent on the gas tax for 71% of revenues for road repairs, according to DOT, while the national average is 35%. I understand the need for more revenue for roads, along with meaningful reforms that will improve the way we manage our roads in SC. However, we should take this opportunity to become less dependent on the gas tax and diversify revenues, not more dependent. The state also proposes to continue to send gas tax revenues to counties as the primary means to fund the transfer of roads to local governments. I simply cannot support continued reliance on a shrinking pot of money for recurring expenses. This will only shift the burden back to our county taxpayers.
County Budget FY 2015-2016
Yesterday, Council met for a special session to hold a budget workshop meeting. The county’s total budget is projected at over $187 million, which includes over $89 million in general fund revenues. These revenues are approximately a $4 million increase, showing that we are indeed recovering from the recession. However, our revenues are not back to their pre-recession levels, largely due to continued underfunding by the state in the Local Government Fund. We expect the LGF allocations to remain the same as last year.
This budget does a number of items that are good news for our county taxpayers. The budget and capital improvement plan continues to move us away from debt financing to pay-as-you-go cash financing of purchases, saving taxpayers the cost of interest on debt. The budget increases our funding on needed improvements: general fund revenue for roads and bridges on top of the funding from the road fee, additional funds for the preventative asphalt maintenance program to prolong the life of our roads, needed IT resources to improve our IT infrastructure, and reinstating positions needed to keep up with increased demand. It also includes a pay increase for all employees as a cost of living adjustment. In short, this budget plays catch-up on a number of deferred needs using only existing revenue and no tax increases. The budget does included a few increases in user fees, including a $5/year increase in the solid waste disposal fee per household. This fee has not been increased since 1997 and will allow us to cash-fund necessary expansion at the county landfill to meet our needs for the next 25-30 years, rather than taking on new debt, to meet future needs and keep our county landfill serving our county residents. The budget and capital improvement plan both passed first reading at today’s meeting.
I appreciate the hard work that our team, including our county administration and our Budget Management office, to put together a thoughtful budget document. The budget will be available shortly on our county website: www.spartanburgcounty.org. I ask you to take a look at the budget and let me know if you have any comments or concerns. We will have an open debate over the next two months as we take second and third reading on the budget, and I plan to send more information out to you on the budget as we go through this process. I want to ensure that we spend your taxpayer dollars in line with your priorities for our community.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any concerns or questions. You can watch video of the April council meeting here, courtesy of Councilman Roger Nutt.
Spartanburg County Council District 2
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