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County Council April 27

Budget discussions get short shrift
Progress on diversity goals
Warwick Jones

Council may attempt to do the right thing. But sometimes things get out of perspective. Last night, members deliberated for a very long time on the right action in constructing some minor roads. They hoped to satisfy all the sparring constituents. And then after hearing these items and others, they suffered some long presentations on diversity, crammed with detail beyond that which was needed. In consequence, the evening proved long. Council members and the audience were weary when the final and most important items on the agenda came up for discussion - the 2007 Capital Improvement Plan and more items relating to the 2007 Fiscal Budget. These received swift hearings and there was little discussion of either.

To be fair, the contents of the last two items on the agenda were probably broadly known by Council members. But this member of the public would have liked more discussion though at some other time, and not at the end of a session that already stretched to nearly 3 hours.

Increase in compensation cost major factor in budget increase
We were unable to attend a meeting early this week when the Finance Committee began discussions on the fiscal year 2007 budget. Butviewers can see a summary of what was proposed for the important General Fund. Download file
In summary, there is a modest increase in both revenue and expenditure. No increase in the property tax millage rate is proposed. Last night, Mr. Roland Windham, the Administrator of the County, was to discuss some aspects of the budget. But with his audience unreceptive, he made only a token presentation. We can't make too much out from the handout available for the public. But we do know that there was a 3.7% cost-of-living adjustment in the budget, which added $3.25 million to expenditures in the General Fund. There was also a $2 million provision to cover the cost arising from implementing the Compensation Study, the results of which should be announced within the next few weeks.

Big increase in Capital Improvement Plan
Common to every year, Council considers the five-year Capital Improvement Plan at the time of budget deliberations. The current plan included most of the projects that were on the previous year's plan. The cost estimate of many has been raised, not only to reflect the impact of inflation but also of reassessment. There were also additions too, for construction of a Charleston Center to accommodate the relocation of departments and entities affected by the expansion of MUSC.

As before, construction of the new jail is the heaviest burden in the Plan. Construction is projected to cost $78.3 million. The adjacent Juvenile Detention facility is projected to cost $14.6 million. The Azalea Complex, which will house an automotive shop, sheriff's warehouse, and the Law Enforcement Center is now projected to cost approximately $40 million compared to roughly $30 million previously. Spending in relation to the Charleston Center and Health Department move is projected at $31.5 million but will be completely funded by MUSC. Viewers can see the five-year program
Download file

Some large bond issues are planned
As broadcast by the County over recent months, new bond issues will be the prime source of funding. Beyond that already approved, the County is looking to $7.95 million in new bonds for fiscal 2007. But in 2008 and 2009, requirements will jump dramatically to approximately $49 million in each year. Ratepayers are unlikely to escape an impact, and the Administrator estimated that millage rates would need to increase 0.8 points in fiscal 2008 to help finance funding costs.

Bond issues relating to sales tax spending will go to referendum
Mr. Windham also noted that there are plans to issue bonds to finance greenbelts and road construction. Amortization and interest costs of these bonds are to be repaid by sales-tax funds. (Sales tax spending is not included in the Capital Improvement Plan - the half-cent sales tax has its own budget) But bond issues that relate to the sales tax are still considered part of County financing. Mr. Windham assumed that these sales-tax bond issues will be put to a referendum and approved. If they weren't approved, then the Council has a problem. The State imposes a limitation on the issue of general obligation bonds. These limits would allow the bond issues proposed under the Capital Improvement Plan but not much more. A failure of the referendum would mean hard choices for Council.

County meeting diversity goals
"Disparity" and "diversity" have been two well-discussed issues on County Council over the last year or so. And Council members Darby and Pryor, on occasions have been severely critical of staff in their tardiness in attempting to meet Council's requests. It may have been conscientiousness or fear of rebuke that prompted the long presentations on diversity at last night's meeting. Mr. Barrett Tolbert, the newly appointed Minority and Women Business Coordinator, made his first presentation before Council. He made observations on the Procurement Department in Q1 and was followed by Mr. Stan Currie, Human Resources Director, who reported on human resources.

Generally the County has a minimum goal of 10% for the participation of minorities in procurement and employment. (Minorities are defined as minority racial groups and women) From the presentations made by these members of staff, it seems goals are being met, and sometimes exceeded. In procurement, Mr. Tolbert estimated that about 24% of controllable expenses were handled by minority and women business enterprises. However, the performance was not so creditable in relation to "awarded contracts". In this area, the percentage handled by minorities was slightly in excess of 10% and indeed if it were not for a single computer contract, the percentage would have been well short of 10%. As Mr. Tolbert also noted, there was a problem in reaching the diversity goal in construction and services because of the few minority firms that existed.

Mr. Currie also noted significant progress in his department over the last 12 months or so. At the beginning of 2005, women and minorities represented 37% of all those earning over $50,000 a year. At September last year, the percentage had increased to 40% and at the end of the first quarter of the current year, to 42%. Mr. Currie and Mr. Tolbert spoke at length of the steps that were being taken to increase the participation of minorities in procurement and employment.

Disparity study under way
Last night's agenda also included a presentation by a representative of MGT, the group contracted by the County to undertake a disparity study. The study is underway and the results should be available within a few months. They could be the basis for action by Council in setting a new diversity goal. Despite the polite compliments given by Council Chairman Stavrinakis, we thought there was little of interest in the presentation. A manual as to how to conduct a disparity study may not exist. But if its does, the presentation could've been taken from it.

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