Laurens County Council FY18 Budget Summary
The Laurens County FY18 budget passed yesterday with a 4-2 vote and 1 absent. The overall FY18 budget increased by $942,578, putting the total county budget to over $30 million. I voted in opposition.
Over the past fiscal year, internal procedures and accounting practices have changed for the better. Finances are being observed and accounted for on a much more thorough basis with monthly statements now being generated and checked for all departments by administration, council and being posted online for everyone to view. Laurens County has reached a new level of transparency over the past couple years with these changes taking place and the creation of LaurensCounty.us. Continuing this trend will mean that the county will have truly accurate financials and data by FY19.
Part of the major problem is that there was a lack of transparency and accountability in local government for a long time. In my view, council had been asleep at the wheel which led to a commingling of funds and mismanagement of day to day activities. I found out this last fiscal year that much of the info that council was provided previously was inaccurate. We didn’t know how many phone lines there were or even if they were being used or not. We didn’t have accurate employee headcounts. We did not know how many purchasing cards were really issued to employees. This equated to a lack of accountability, spending down reserve funds and running annual deficits for the last 5 years. The lowering of reserves resulting in a lower bond rating (A1); which means higher interest rates and that it cost more for local government to borrow money.
With the phone audit continuing we will soon know all details on phones and data lines. We are also working to recover funding from those losses. Moving forward, the county will have accurate information on these lines and will monitor these activities closely.
We now know that there are 98 purchasing cards issued to Laurens County employees and elected officials.
We will not know the real general fund balance until FY19. This is because designated funds were mixed with the Laurens County general fund budget for many years. All of this has been broken apart over the past year and will ultimately, allow us to have a better financial picture. By FY19, the county will also start to receive cost savings from audits and efficiency changes being made.
As we continue, I hope to see more of these cost savings and efficiency studies to actually lower taxes and to allow effective services. Purchasing cards will become even more transparent as statements will be posted publicly and online. Soon, we will also be getting information back regarding an efficiency study on county building utilities. This has potential to help cut costs and helps to plan long term as well.
FY18 budget includes a 1.31% COLA/CPI (pay increase for all employees), .3% population increase and a failed 1% pension increase.
While some good changes have been made throughout the county budgeting process for FY18, I voted in opposition to this budget because overall it continued to increase spending. There were specifically a number of line items that I asked to remove from the budget including:
Special Donations line item for $20,000
I do not believe that county council should donate taxpayers money to various groups and organizations. It’s fine for individuals to do this with their own funds and resources, but government should not be doing this.
Increase in the I.T. budget by $75,000
Currently, Laurens County outsources I.T. for $124,000 annually. There are plans to hire two I.T. employees internally. Council voted to increase I.T. budget by $75,000. I’ve yet to see how two employees will cost $200,000 per year.
3 new EMS employees increase $188,000
There’s plans to add 3 additional EMS employees. I’ve asked that council seriously consider alternatives including, Fire based EMS and outsourcing with private EMS services. Council will also come to taxpayers for more money in FY18 to build all new EMS stations. I hope that they consider alternatives before taking more of taxpayers money.
State Pension Increase $139,000
Council needed a supermajority of 5 votes in order to pass this 1% portion of the tax increase. Currently, county employees are included in the state pension system. This system is going bankrupt and will continue to increase taxes every year on taxpayers. I’ve asked that the county consider options with pay and leaving the state system. According to state finance reports, the cost of the state pension system will double by 2023 (around $2.2 Billion statewide). While this is considered a mandate by the state, I asked to eliminate this increased expenditure from the budget possibly paying for the increase (if mandated) by the cost savings from the elimination of other line items.
I made a motion that included these options and I did not receive a second. Instead, council voted 4-2, to eliminate the 1% pension tax increase and pay for it from the contingency fund instead. This will most likely result in a continued deficit. I voted in opposition.
August 22nd, 2017 Regular Laurens County Council Meeting