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County Council Meeting May 24

Should employees on low wages get a higher COLA adjustment?
Confusion over contributions to Outside Agencies. Aquarium added to the list
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

They were not matters of great financial import but viewers may be interested in what was discussed at last night's Finance Committee Meeting.

First on the agenda was Cost of Living (COLA) increases for County Staff. Normally at this time each year, salaries and wages are adjusted upwards to reflect the impact of inflation over the last year. As measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for this region, the COLA increase was 3.3%, a ratio somewhat higher than the national average.

Council Member Darby at earlier meetings of the Finance Committee had expressed concern about the large number of persons working for the County who were earning very low wages. He wondered how people could live on such wages. He suggested that instead of applying the 3.3% evenly over all employees, a graduated scale should be introduced that would give the lower level wage earners a higher percentage increase.

Some Council members were not in favor, in particularly Council Member Fava and Scott. They argued that the time for adjustments for inequity was when a compensation study was made. One was scheduled to be undertaken shortly with Mr. Windham, the County Administrator suggesting that the results could be available by the end of the calendar year. After much discussion, Council Chairman Stavrinakis joined the fray opining that Council members Fava and Scott were right in sense but as 7 years had passed since the last compensation study, some adjustment along the lines proposed by Council member Darby would be appropriate as a one time thing.

Staff estimated that adjusting all salaries by 3.3% would cost the County an additional $2.7 million. It noted that if salaries below $25,870 - the minimum living wage defined by Staff - were raised 6% and salaries above $25,870 raised 3%, the cost would be equal to $2.7 million. Council members Darby and Wallace had looked to smaller increases than 6% for lower paid employees.

Council agreed that the COLA adjustment should be fixed at the $2.7 million amount but the distribution of the percentage increase should be discussed and decided at the next meeting of the Finance Committee. At that time, Council members should have before them the distribution of salaries and wages amongst Council employees and be in a better position to assess the impact of a graduated percentage distribution of the COLA amount.

New Council members seemingly inadequately briefed

Again the amounts were not large but they generated some heat in the discussion. Before the Committee were Outside Agency Contributions. These are contributions made by the County to outside parties - usually charitable or non profit organizations. The contributions are made from the General Fund and from the Accommodations Tax. The total amounts for Fiscal 2006 were $376,000 and about $320,000 respectively. The contribution allocated to the agency is left to individual Council members, each being allocated an equal amount of the total, at least for the General Fund.

What became an issue and embarrassment, was that the new members were not told precisely what was normally required. It seems they were led to believe that for contributions from the General Fund, they could make allocations to non-profits of their choosing. Although there is no formal council procedure, allocations in the past have been made only after submissions by the non- profits, which includes evidence of their worthiness, and the likely disposition of funds. Each member was allocated $34,563 for disposal and despite the controversy, the allocations will stand.

The new council members, in their ignorance of past practices and without the proper guidance, made unsolicited allocations to a number of non-profits not on previous lists. Council member Darby and to a lesser extent Council members Pryor and Inabinett included some neighborhood associations in their lists. Council member Pryor also included some church groups.

The list below shows the number of allocations, the highest individual allocation and the recipient of the highest allocation as they relate to the General Fund Distribution. Altogether $376,499 was allocated.

Stavrinakis: 19 allocations, $5000 to each of Jenkins Institute and Center for Heirs' Property Preservation.
Scott: 17 allocations, $7000 for Youth Empowered for Service Council.
Bostic: 4 allocations, $20,000 for Harvest Free Medical Clinic.
Darby: 41 allocations, $3063 for SC Coalition for Black Voter Participation.
Fava: 5 allocations, $25,000 for Trident Literary Association
Inabinett: 11 allocations, $5000 for each of Edisto Island Community Association, Red Top Improvement Association, Rural Mission, and Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care Corporation.
Pryor: 30 allocations, $7000 to Evening of Prayer Ministries.
Wallace: 14 allocations, $8000 to Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy.

There was also a grant of $100,000, labeled "jointly allocated", that went to Tri County Project Care.

Big allocation for the Aquarium from Accomodations Tax
The total allocation from the Accommodations Tax was about $320,000. Changes were made at the meeting that were not included in the paper work that accompanied the discussion. It is not clear to us as to how this amount was allocated though it is clear that each member could allocate some amount. As the tax is gained from essentially tourist related activities, the revenue is returned to those entities that contribute to the industry. The largest amount - $45,000 - went to the Gibbes Museum, $5000 more than it received last year. The second largest amounts - $40,000 - went to both the Spoleto Festival and the SC Aquarium. Spoleto received $30,000 last year and the Aquarium nothing. Interestingly, Council member Fava voted to have all of his allocation of $35,000 go to the Aquarium. The recipients of the next largest allocations were The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, to receive $30,000, and the Charleston Metro Sports Council, to receive $25,000.

All the recipients of allocations last year received something this year. The addition to this year's list apart from the Aquarium was the Denmark Vesey and the Spirit of Freedom Monument which is to receive $15,000.

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