7 Number 4
||A Voice for Freedom||22 April 2015|
Lancaster County Budget
Lancaster County faces a number of serious budget issues this spring, and it seems appropriate to make residents aware of these while there is still time to do something about them. For the past several years County government and County Council have been keeping budget matters very quiet until immediately before the state mandated deadline of 30 June to pass a balanced county budget. This has served to hide the severity of the situation from the public view.
The Administration Committee of County Council has completed its work on the FY 16 County Budget and intends to send the resulting document to the full Council for consideration. This budget leaves County Core Governmental Services vulnerable in a number of areas as follows:
1. The Criminal Justice System is crippled in that the Solicitor and Public Defender are denied the help that they need to prosecute cases in a timely fashion, the Sheriff is denied the help he needs to continue his outstanding work keeping crime under control and the E-911 system is left severely understaffed to the point where calls are not being answered in a timely fashion. All of these departments have been denied their budget requests for several years in a row.
2. The Voter Registration Department is facing Primary and General Elections in 2016 with two precincts having more than 5000 voters each. The maximum number of voters per precinct is 1500. The FY 16 proposed budget cut the staff in this department, creating an impossible situation. The integrity of the 2016 General Election will be open to question.
3. The Emergency Medical Services Department is operating at considerable disadvantage due to the low salaries for paramedics Response time has gone from 8 to 11 minutes due to lack of qualified staff. The current budget adds $850k to the EMS overtime budget, which is a patch intended to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
4. The County's water supply is at risk due to the refusal of the County to take seriously the requirements of the Federal Clean Water Act. Notified by SCDHEC on 1 October 2014, efforts to date have consisted mainly of telling SCDHEC that Lancaster County will do the minimum required to comply and seeking ways to create a special tax district to pay for the effort.
5. All employees are given 0.5% cost of living and substantial raises are provided for employees of 10 years seniority or more who feel that they are not fairly compensated in comparison with new hires. Anticipated costs are $125k for the 0.5% across the board increases and $225k to make the 10 year employees happy.
Both the Administration Committee Chair and the County Administrator have declined to consider any alternatives to the current budget.
It is my belief that the risks imposed by the current budget proposal are unacceptable and unnecessary.
The current difficulties are caused not by “unfunded mandates” as alleged by the Administrator and the Finance Committee, but by financial mismanagement extending over many years. The County consistently funds the newest glitzy project and commits to accept the grants and the long term obligation to fund the project after the grants expire, then fails to adequately plan for the actual long term funding needs when they come due. The current difficulty is caused by a number of grants for previously approved projects expiring at the same time. Cutting core governmental services is a very poor, and in my opinion, unnecessary way to put the problem off for another year.
The Sheriff, unwilling to accept the reduction in service levels that would be required by the County's refusal to fund his budget for two years in a row and under pressure, particularly in Indian Land, to provide services not provided in other areas of the County, such as traffic control and accident investigation, has started to seek funding outside the County budget.
One proposal is to create a special police force in the Indian Land area funded by a $75 per year per house fee on all houses in the Indian Land area similar to the Fire Fee now in effect. The point to having this separate police force would be to provide police services not provided in other areas of the county such as accident investigation and traffic control. The Special Police District would be operated as a branch of County Government and not have its own management as the Fire District has.
It makes no sense to fund this special police force unless the officers requested in the Sheriff's budget are also funded. What special force deputy, assigned to monitor traffic, is going to ignore a violent crime call for which no one else is available to respond? The net effect of this move will be to relieve the County General Fund of having to provide the Sheriff's Department with about $1MM/year in future years.
The Council Public Safety Committee heard and approved the Sheriff's Indian land proposal at its meeting on 21 April, recommending to the Administration Committee that the Sheriff's FY 16 budget request be approved and noting that a special election in the Indian Land area would be required to approve the plan and implement the fee. A petition with about 2500 signatures of voters living in the Indian Land area would be required to call a special;l election. Verification of the 2500 signatures would be the responsibility of the Voter Registration Department, which staff has just been eliminated by the Administration Committee (see above).
The next meeting scheduled in this Scenario of the Confused is the County Council workshop meeting on 30 April at 5:00 PM to discuss the budget.
I-2 Property Near Landsford State Park
I-2 is the zoning classification reserved for businesses likely to have a negative impact on surrounding property values. A proposal to rezone property near the eastern (undeveloped) portion of Landsford State Park to I-2 has been in front of County Council for a couple of months, held up because it was not clear that the roads in the area could support the heavy truck traffic associated with the project, which was a sawmill. This rezoning request has been withdrawn and the ordinance to rezone the property will be killed at the next County Council meeting. The cost of upgrading the roads makes the project uneconomic.
It would be preferable to have Council vote the proposal down because that carries with it a ban on considering a similar proposal for at least twelve months. If Council simply allows the ordinance to be withdrawn a similar proposal could be put forward at any time. Some day this area should be developed into a major recreational area; the presence of I-2 zoning in the area is not compatible with recreational use and represents a potential hazard to the nearby Catawba River. `
Lancaster County Budget
A Taxpayer Perspective
Total Lancaster County property taxes were 76.50 mils in FY2005 and will increase to as much as 96.6 mils ($27.3MM) in FY2016.
For this money, Lancaster County residents expect the core functions of government to work, if not optimally, at least well, and trust County Council and the County Administration to make it so.
Unfortunately, as outlined in the column to the left, core functions of government in Lancaster County are not working well and there is no attempt in the current FY 16 budget proposal to improve the situation, neither is there any willingness on the part of the County Council or the County Administration to take any steps to even investigate any alternative to the current proposal or to engage in any public discussion of the matter. The next meeting on the budget is the County Council workshop on the budget on 30 April at 5:00 PM in the County Administration Building. Any efforts at solving the problems will apparently remain under wraps until then.
What needs to happen?The first thing that needs to happen is that the Administration and County Council need to get back to work and provide the missing core governmental services. This needs to be done in a completely transparent way - each program idea needs to have a cost associated with it. This transparency needs to extend back to the existing budget . Not enough information has been provided in the existing budget to permit making suggestions or a public discussion on the subject, a change from budgets I have reviewed in previous years.
The second thing that needs to happen is that the financial management practices that led to this situation need to change. For many years the County has pursued an unplanned open residential policy in which the long term cost to the County to provide services to the new residents exceeds the tax revenue that is produced by the housing that the new residents buy. This has led to serious overcrowding in our schools, and, as seen in the current budget difficulties, is now leading to difficulties in providing core governmental services.
The industrial development policy is also an unplanned, random effort that will make a maximum effort to accommodate virtually any business that wants to come, giving away virtually all industrial property tax income for generations to come as an incentive for the organization to relocate here. Some employees relocate here as a result of business relocation, but the housing that they purchase is a long term cost to the county since the cost of providing residential services is greater than the taxes generated. This is not to say that the industrial development effort is without value, but that5 it must be focussed and controlled
Commercial development would provide a positive tax benefit to the county, but there has been no serious effort to encourage this sort of development or develop a market for it. The County does not have available to it the water and sewer system which underpins the County and City governments in many other areas via profits from the sale of water.
The long and the short of the situation is that the County is in a downward spiral that will be difficult to reverse. The County is going to have to be a lot more careful in biting off more than it can chew, begin realizing that the tax base can only grow so fast, and when costs are incurred against budgets in future years, the money is already in the budget for that future year and cannot be spent again.
It is interesting to note that this year's development activity is largely made up of last year's projects that failed to close after approval. The people who have to provide the financing for these large development projects are looking at them after they are approved and deciding not to move forward.
Julia Miller AlexanderVan Wyck lost an iconic figure on 23 March 2015 when Julia Alexander passed away at the age of 92. Julia lived a long and very productive life and had written her own memorial service, right down to which verses of which hymns and which passages of the Scripture readings were to be emphasized and how their meanings were to be explained. Those in attendance at the memorial service were thinking that Julia was probably looking down from her new assignment in Heaven making sure that everything was going exactly as she had planned it. A woman of immense grace, charm and wit, Julia leaves a large void in Van Wyck.
A brief story about Julia might be in order. I did not know Julia well, but attended her 90th birthday party at Trinity Presbyterian Church. I decided to take her picture.
Julia was smiling and happy, but very aware of her surroundings and had a "camera face" that she put on every time someone tried to take her picture. Like many people, her "camera face" expression was much different than the facial expression she wore all the time. I wanted a picture of her the way she looked all the time, and took a dozen pictures, but each time she saw me, quickly put on her "camera face" and that is what I got.
Finally I took a position where I had a good, unobstructed view of her, focussed the camera, put it away and pretended to talk to someone else, watching her out of the corner of my eye. Finally someone told her a particularly funny story and I quickly pulled out the camera and took the picture shown above. There she is, vibrant, happy, smiling and full of life, just the way she looked when the camera was not looking at her.
Lancaster County5 May 2015 - CrimeWatch - 7:00 PM, CDC Meeting 7:30 PM
Lancaster County is 230 years old on 23 April 2015 and a party is in order from 4 - 6 PM between the County Administration Building and the Old Court House, 101 N. Main Street, Lancaster. Brochure.
4 July 2015 - Fireworks with VWVFD
12 Sep 2015 - Fall Festival - 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
24 October 2015 - Halloween Party
28 Nov 2015 - Put up poles for Lighting the Way
2 Dec 2015 - Christmas Parade - Noon
13 Dec 2015 - Lighting the Way - 4:00 PM