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County Council approves FY 2018-19 budget

The months-long process of creating and finalizing the Laurens County budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year came to a close Tuesday night as the Laurens County Council held third and final reading on the proposed budget.

After a time for public comment, council finalized the budget, which came in at more than $23 million, on third and final reading. A separate budget for Laurens County Fire Services at around $9 million was also expected to be approved. Neither budget was to require a tax increase.

“It was very involved this year,” said Laurens County Council Chairman Joe Wood. “We covered a lot of things and straightened out a lot of department salaries and things like that. I didn’t agree with everything that we put in it.”

The budget was approved by a 5-0-1 vote of council. Wood abstained and Ted Nash was absent due to illness.

Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime said council members worked hard to come to solutions on items they debated during the budgeting process.

“There were differing opinions on what should be funded and what should not be funded,” he said. “They debated future scholars and planning, and things like that can take some time.”

Caime built in a 2.1-percent cost-of-living wage increase for county employees, while also restructuring the county’s pay scales and employee designations to put all employees on equal footing. Around $350,000 was fit into the budget in order to make the county’s wage scale more in line with the rest of the region, mainly Greenwood County, which is similar in population to Laurens County.

“That’s been one of my priorities since I’ve been here,” Caime said. “It was important this year to fix our overall compensation system and bring our wages closer to market value.”

The increases apply to hourly employees, not salaried management employees such as himself, Caime has said in earlier meetings of council.

Though there are no tax increases built into this year’s budget, county residents who use the county’s waste-management services are to be charged an extra $5 per month to help cover a shortfall in the solid-waste management budget.

Caime said the process itself improved since he first introduced his accounting practices and systems in last year’s budget.

“The first year, (the budget process) was just chaos because I did a major restructure of the budget,” Caime said. “This year, with the restructure, we’re incorporating more long-range plans into the mix.”

The budget also takes care of short-term needs, such as the cost-of-living increases and unfunded mandates from the state, which include pension contributions.

“Without doing those things, all we’re really doing is mirroring what the federal government is doing – pretending everything is OK, but really just digging yourself a hole.”

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