are some factors in lean budget
Members of the Winnsboro Town Council grappled this week with a budget that started off with a $600,000 shortfall. The result was a lot of belt-tightening across the board in the Fiscal Year 2008-2009 budget.
The Town is considering ways to compensate for that shortfall, including a $10 garbage pick up fee, and increases in utility rates.
The Town finance committee met twice this past week to hammer out a budget document that will be presented to the full council for their adjustments on Tuesday night.
Several factors led to the lean budget year: the loss of $600,000 in utilities revenue, due to the closing of the Plastech, Perry Ellis and St. Gobain plants, the increase in benefit costs for Town employees, the increase in costs of all sorts of insurance held by the Town and the cost of petroleum, which is driving up the cost of products, including fuel, that are made from petroleum.
A new expense is money the Town must pay into the South Carolina Other Retirement Benefits Investment Trust (SCORBIT), an expense of about $200,000.
At this past Tuesday’s budget work session, Town Manager Don Wood briefed the members on the shortfall, and said in his opinion, the fairest option was to go up on the utility rates. Four percent was thrown put as the initial suggested increase amount.
“Recall that we haven’t gone up on electricity and gas in at least seven years,” Wood said.
On the expense side of the budget, Wood said it would be difficult to give cost of living increases to Town employees, but the prevailing feeling among Town officials is they would like to do that if they are able.
At Thursday’s budget worksession, the finance committee voted to recommend a two percent cost of living adjustment for Town employees.
But this increase is a double-edged sword; it means the Town must also increase the payments for insurance and other employee benefits, based on the slight salary increase employees may receive.
Even though the Town of Winnsboro is not collecting property tax at this time, Wood also recommended an increase to 33.3 mills to keep the millage rate current, so if it should become necessary to collect tax revenues in the future, the Town would not be so far behind in raising the millage rate.
The so-called mini-grants that the Town gives to various local assistance and community agencies also came under scrutiny at the budget worksessions.
The mini-grant requests were higher this year than last year, Wood said on Tuesday.
Upon learning that some of the agencies that the Town had awarded mini-grants to in the past did not respond to the Town’s requirement to send in documentation when applying for the grants, the finance committee recommended that the Town Council not approve those requests.
At this past Thursday’s budget worksession, the finance committee also recommended a 20% reduction in these grants. The rationale for this reduction was the lean budget year the Town of Winnsboro will face.
Increases in utility rates and a $10 garbage fee were also discussed at Tuesday’s worksession.
Finance committee chair Jack Wilkes pointed out that during the Town’s discussion of annexation, no garbage collection fee was one of the benefits mentioned if residents annexed into the Town. Now it seems, the Town was reneging on that a year later, he said.
“My feeling is, most communities charge for it, second, with the annexation, people coming in, it costs us money to get people annexed in. Those new residents then get their water cheaper, paying the in-town rates. We’ve had three plant closings, a $600,000 shortfall that we didn’t anticipate last year, and that’s just the times that we’re in,” said Mayor Roger Gaddy.
Councilmember Marcia Bonds said she feels the Town’s rates are still “in the extremely reasonable category.”
The increase in utility rates was further hammered out in Thursday’s worksession, where th committee recommended a 4% increase on gas and electric rates, 10% increase on water rates and an 8% increase on sewer rates.
Winnsboro Town Council is also contemplating cuts to what some see as their “perks of office”.
The committee is recommending deletion of the $3000 crime prevention funds for each Town council member, and a new, more strict travel reimbursement policy.
Based on these savings, Wood told the finance committee on Thursday, the Town would be able to almost fully fund the capital expenditures for the budge year.
Also, downtown development director Jill Cincotta would have $3000 available for the facade grant program.
The full Town Council will consider the budget proposal at Tuesday night’s regular meeting, 6:15 p.m., May 20.