2302 June 5 -
Anderson County Council June 4, 2002
Anderson County Council approved third reading on the $91 million budget without making any cuts to the proposed 2002-03 budget during their regular meeting Tuesday.
The budget was approved 6-0 with Council member Cindy Wilson abstaining.
The vote came after discussions concerning cuts suggested by members of the Anderson County Tax Payers Association at the last meeting of Council.
Members of the taxpayers association urged Council to consider reducing the budget or at least holding it to the previous budget level at both meetings.
Suggestions made Tuesday by association members included eliminating merit and seniority raises for County employees and freezing all increases for one year. They also pointed out losses by the Civic Center of $400,000 in addition to debt service in excess of $2 million.
Tax payer association member Frank Kellam also questioned airport expenses and line item transfers within the budget.
There are people in the County struggling to pay their bills, he said.
Dan Harvell said there are concerns about taxes and the group is focusing on the local level and is just looking out for taxpayers.
During discussions on the budget, council member Mike Holden said he supports merit and cost of living increases.
There was some discussion of a suggestion to stop allowing deputies to drive patrol cars home.
Tenth Circuit Solicitor Druanne White and a spokesperson for the sheriffs office both spoke in favor of the practice, citing more deputies on the street, increased visibility and quick response times and increased life of the vehicles, as reasons to continue the policy.
Council member Cindy Wilson asked the sheriffs representative if there were enough deputies, to which he responded, There are never enough.
Sheriff Gene Taylor requested no additional deputies in the new budget according to Administrator Joey Preston.
Council member Clint Wright said the pay policy adopted by the County has helped in retaining employees, which he said saves money in the long run because of costs associated in training new people when there is high turnover.
Chairman Larry Greer asked County Attorney Tom Martin to respond to a question made during the public comments portion of the meeting concerning the legality of recreation funds allocated for each of the Countys seven districts.
Martin stated that the budget ordinance adopts the budget book which includes an itemized breakdown of recreation funds appropriated for each Council district.
The budget ordinance appropriates those funds for that use, Martin said.
There was also discussion related to continued questions about the purchase of a hot air balloon by the County.
Administrator Joey Preston said the balloon cost approximately $35,000, which included a 1978 Chevrolet chase vehicle. The package was paid for with accomodations tax money which Preston said must be used for tourism expenses.
Other discussions centered around concerns with the airport operations.
Preston said the goal is not for the County to become a permanent fixed base operator but to eventually allow a private operator to perform the service, possibly within 12 to 24 months.
Greer raised the concern of possible liabilities associated with airport maintenance and operations.
Martin said there is a liability but the County is covered by an insurance policy at the maximum allowed.
Council member Wilson asked about fire department appropriations, stating that she has had a number of funding requests from fire departments within her district.
Greer said the County fire system is funded through a 6 mill county-wide tax on unincorporated areas which results in a $2.7 million budget for County fire.
Chief Glenn Gable said the funding falls under the county legislative delegation and provides funds for 27 volunteer fire departments, with additional help from County Council.
Gable said County Fire funds each volunteer department with $10,000, in addition to providing fire marshals, dispatchers, mechanics, turnout gear and training. They also provide two pumper vehicles per station.
Training is often mandated by the state with no funding according to the County attorney.
The department also has a HazMat team which Gable said is all volunteer. The new budget includes funding for a new HazMat vehcile and equipment.
Wilson abstained from the budget vote, citing she is a party to a lawsuit challenging permits for the Beaverdam Sewer project. She said she has no economic interest, and was advised by the state ethics commission that she should abstain from the vote.
Following the 6-0 vote, Council member Gracie Floyd asked why she was advised to recuse herself from budget discussions by leaving the room during the last meeting.
Attorney Martin said the state ethics commission advised that if there is a conflict of interest or potential conflict, they recommend withdrawing from the discussion rather than abstention.
Floyd was formerly employed by a non-profit group, Senior Solutions, receiving funding from the County.
The Fiscal Year 2002-03 budget, effective July 1, will increase spending by $11 million over the current budget, with most of the increase coming from an $8 million bonding program.
In other business, Council approved a resolution recognizing sixteen hairdressers who participated in a Beauty and the Breast outreach program for breast cancer prevention.
The resolution drew additional attention after Floyd read a faxed letter from a constituent stating that a local radio station had made fun of the program which was instrumental in bringing breast cancer awareness to more than 500 local women.
The discussion became emotional and personal for Councilman Bill Dees, who said his mother was a victim of breast cancer.
There were also discussions and a resolution passed by Council in support of legislation concerning housing inmates and the associated costs when the state is slow to process inmates bound for state facilities.
County Detention Center Director Bob Daly told Council he is meeting with the Anderson County Legislative Delegation in hopes of getting legislation passed to deal with the situation.
Council also approved third reading on a site lease agreement with American Towers, Inc. and on an ordinance allowing the enlargement of an industrial/business park of Anderson and Greenville counties.