Calhoun County Council gave second reading approval to a $17.4 million general fund budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year on Monday.
Council voted 4-1 to approve the budget, which is about 7 percent larger than the current year’s $16.3 million budget.
The new budget, if it remains the same through third reading, will require a tax increase.
“If the budget stays the same and millage is set as projected, a $24 annual increase is projected for a $100,000 house," Calhoun County Administrator John McLauchlin said.
The projected millage would be 123.4 mills, compared to the current 117.4 mills, McLauchlin said.
“Of course millage is not set until later in the year when the state gives final revenue projections," McLauchlin said, noting the budget could change.
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The increase on a $30,000 vehicle would be $10.80 annually, McLauchlin said.
Councilwoman Rebecca Bonnette voted against the budget. She asked council to table second reading, but her request failed for the lack of a second.
“I would like for us to review it,” Bonnette said. “I would like for the sheriff’s office to get the money that they need, but I also think that we need to not raise taxes on people and to look at some ways that we can cut back spending in other areas.”
Councilman Richard Carson supported the second reading of the budget, but requested the administration “look for ways to decrease the budget as we have it.”
“I am understanding that we really don’t set a millage or anything like an increase right now,” Carson said. “All we are doing is talking about a budget. The millage and all won’t be done until a lot later date and time. October is what I have been told.”
“I am just looking for ways to decrease the budget that we do have before the third reading.”
Prior to the vote, several residents spoke against any tax increases, requested spending cuts and asked for more transparency in the budget process.
“We need to support the sheriff’s department but we can’t afford yet another tax hike to do it,” Randy Stabler said. “What is the county giving up? The county is not giving up anything. The people in this county are the ones giving it up.”
Stabler asked, “Why does a county of 15,000 residents need two administrators?”
“I wonder if we cut back to one administrator how much money could we save on salaries, insurance and vehicles,” Stabler said. “The county has no problem asking taxpayers to pay more, but I am asking the council to cut Calhoun County to one administrator and let him be like the taxpayers and do a little more.”
Sandy Run resident Amy Hill called for greater transparency.
“This process of the budget increase or review or approval is not transparent,” Hill said. “I don’t think citizens feel comfortable or safe – at least not the ones who are commenting to me – that you guys are really safeguarding their best interest.”
County resident Larry Wagner echoed Hill’s concerns.
“Now we have the second reading on the budget tonight that the people have not been able to comment on, haven’t been able to look at, and I am not sure you want them to look at it,” Wagner said. “Because if you raise taxes, I think you are going to raise the ire of the citizens of our county because everything is going up.”
Wagner asked council to review the budget closely. He also requested council sell the Calhoun Hills Golf Course, which loses money.
St. Matthews resident John Cantrell also called for transparency.
When he was told he’d need to make a S.C. Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the budget, he said “Give me a break guys. Is that really necessary?”
“We’ve got a website. Why can’t we put it on our website? Is that too much to ask?” he said.
Cantrell asked council to listen to the residents.
“We deserve more input on this question,” Cantrell said.
In addition to the general fund budget, council also voted 4-1 on the Calhoun Hills Golf Complex budget.
Bonnette, who voted in opposition, said “I think we need to get rid of it.”
The other budgetary items related to public schools, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, capital improvements, debt service, water and wastewater and the county fire services were all unanimously approved.
The county's fiscal year begins July 1.
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