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County Council, October 16

Counties joining to request restoration of state funding levels

Warwick Jones

It was a long time in coming. Back during the March 20 Finance Committee meeting, the drop in state funding over recent years for the County’s General Fund was discussed. State funding is an important source of revenue and the cuts have strained budgets. Staff was asked to approach the South Carolina Association of Counties (SCAC) to seek support for the restoration of Local Government Funding to previously agreed statutory levels. Before the Committee last night was a resolution prepared by SCA and which was sent for signing to all counties in the State.

To provide some context for the resolution, we show below an extract from our comment on the March 20 meeting.

Finance Committee members were not happy after the staff presentation last night. The message conveyed by staff was that Columbia was stiffing the County, and every other County in the state, big dollars. For Charleston County, the blow is an estimated $3 2 million for this fiscal year. The accumulation since 2009 is an estimated $17.1 million.

So how does this come about? The State pays every county an amount each year designed to cover the costs of state-mandated spending. It does this through the Local Government Fund (LGF). State Law, passed in 1991, set the allocation to the LGF at 4.5% of the State’s General Fund. The allocation is then distributed to the Counties by formula.

Back in 2009 when the economy was wilting and revenues were lower, the State decided to ignore the provisions relating to the amounts distributed to the LGF. (“Ignore” is probably not the right word. It enacted legislation to enable the avoidance of a full provision). According to staff, the State allocated Charleston County $17.9 million from the LGF in 2009 opposed to the $19.2 million statutory obligation. This represented a shortfall of $1.3 million. And it got worse in subsequent years ranging from a shortfall of $3.7 million in 2010, $2.6 million in 2013 and an estimated $3.2 million this year.

Council members were clearly unhappy with the revelation. Council member Schweers commented that the cut backs imposed by the state in 2009 and 2010 were perhaps justified by the tough times. But as staff said and Council member Schweers acknowledged, State revenues had increased 3 years in a row since and the State had done nothing to restore the annual appropriation.

Adding to the indignation was the staff’s estimate that the actual cost of implementing State mandates is much higher than the revenues derived from the State. In 2010, staff estimated that the County’s cost of providing these mandated services was over $30 million. Funds received from the State that year from the LGF amounted to only $14.7 million – effectively a more than 50% shortfall.

Compared with projected revenues of $194 million in the County’s General Fund this year, the cut backs are not budget-blowing. But they can make a big difference. Indeed, they could be the difference between a tax increase or not.

The Resolution is hard hitting and although the Committee endorsed it unanimously, some had reservations about the word “sham” in the last paragraph on page 1. Staff was directed to find a more appropriate word. Viewers can see the Resolution by pressing Download file

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The only other item of interest last night was a presentation on Consolidated Dispatch to the Public Safety Committee. The presentation was simply information only. It outlined the Strategic Goals and sought input from the County. However, there was no mistaking the pride that the speakers had in the successful creation of Consolidated Dispatch. One said that the accreditation teams had given it high marks and set a high bar for others in the “Country”.

Presently the operation is understaffed with 108 dispatchers compared with a need for 135. There is no shortage of applicants. There have been 400 applications for positions but only 5 were hired. Applicants have to meet stringent requirements for what can be stressful conditions. They also need to pass background checks.

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