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County Council, March 29, 2007

Chairman declares assumption of a tax increase is premature!
Progress on diversity
Warwick Jones

It was another lean meeting. Staff presented their quarterly progress report on diversity, Council agreed to look into video conferencing as an aid to cutting costs, and Council danced around whether there would be a tax increase.

Starting with the tax increase discussion, Chairman Scott expressed irritation that any body should feel that a tax increase was likely in the coming fiscal year. Such talk was premature. Budget discussion had not begun and as far as he was concerned, there would be no increase.

He seemed to be singling out the Post and Courier which had speculated, and with reason in our view, that a tax increase was likely. Presentations by staff over the last few weeks indicated some major and necessary spending, in particular, for a new jail to alleviate the considerable crowding in the existing facility.

All council members declare opposition to a tax increase, sort of
The Chairman’s declaration provoked other Council members to state their position. Council member Inabinett made the most sensible comment. “Shouldn’t we cross the bridge when we come to it”? Notwithstanding, all Council members declared their opposition to a tax increase unless it was absolutely necessary. Council member Pryor however went a little further and said that it was well and good to talk and oppose a tax increase. But he did not want to put staff “in a corner”. He wanted staff to recommend what was necessary and not be intimidated by Council. He would not jeopardize public safety and services. If a tax increase were necessary, he would vote for it.

Administrator acknowledges tight position
The spotlight eventually shifted to Administrator Canterbury who declared that staff would present Council with options. Even if a tax increase were recommended, Council would be given options for cutting expenditures and avoiding a tax increase. However, avoiding a tax increase in the General Fund would be easier than avoiding it for Debt Servicing, he added. Council member Pryor noted that the Administrator had performed “miracles” before. Maybe he could do so again.

Progress on diversity goals
The County continues to make progress on its diversity goals. Judging from yesterday's presentation, it is exceeding them in some areas. Last year, the County set a target of 10% participation of minorities and women in the Council work force (for positions which pay $50,000 or more), and in procurement.

In the latest quarter, Minority Business Enterprises (MBE’s) accounted to 13 % of direct construction related spending and Women Business Enterprises (WBE’s) 5%. In term of construction contract values, the figures were slightly higher at 14% and 7% respectively. Under contracts for Services, MBE’s achieved 18% and WBE’s 9 %.

Council was shown a table prepared by the Human Resources Department which indicated that presently, about 37% of the 1924 employees of the County were minorities, and 44% were women – of all races. This prompted Council member Schweers to ask whether this meant that the County was getting close to a mix in line with that of the County population. Administrator Canterbury said that although the table, which split up employment into categories, would suggest this, the table was deceptive and there was more work to be done. This view was also expressed by Chairman Scott.

Cutting costs by video conferencing
Council member McKeown brought the matter of video conferencing to the attention of Council. He noted that considerable money spent on travel, in particular to Columbia. Such trips were not always necessary and could be avoided simply by using video conferencing. It had particular application in relation to the Sheriff’s department and the transport of criminals to hearings. Council agreed to pursue the matter
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