By Betsy Finklea
The Dillon County Council failed to pass the third reading of their budget due to a 3-3 tied vote of council last week.
The budget discussion opened with a public hearing. A handful of community members voiced their concerns about various aspects of the budget.
County Administrator Clay Young gave a brief overview of the proposed budget. Council members asked various questions. Councilman Jamal Campbell brought up the fact that the $55 fire fee that was being charged was the same for residences and industries. Chairman T.F. “Buzzy” Finklea, Jr., explained that at a workshop it had been discussed about going to a millage-based fee. He said somebody who had a more expensive home would pay more than someone in a less expensive home and the same with industries. Finklea said they knew it would take some time to implement this so they left everything the way it was because the plan was to go with the millage-based fee.
Councilman Gerome “Gee” McLeod asked to take the podium. McLeod said that he wanted to go on record saying that he was voting against this budget. He said the reason why is Fire Station 5 (Minturn, Carolina, Bingham areas). He said it is a part-time fire station, and there is no money budgeted for those areas. He said after 5:00 p.m., there is no one at the department. The response time is too far to those areas. He said they are looking at a loss of life and loss of property, and “that’s total disregard for my people in my district.” McLeod then brought up the Economic Development Director. He said this is a much-needed position to fill. McLeod said Young didn’t have the time to spend to do that job correctly; there’s no way possible. He said Young was hired to be the county administrator and that’s a very complex job that takes his full attention. McLeod said as a council he didn’t feel that they did their due diligence at workshops to ensure that they check each line item, dissect it, and make sure they had the funding for pertinent positions. Lastly, McLeod said, “Clay, I’m rooting for you. Believe it or not, I’m rooting for you. If you win, we all win, but we got to do it the right way.”
There was a discussion about American Cares Act money.
Councilwoman Detrice Dawkins said she felt they needed to cut excessive and wasteful spending, but did not specifically name any particular items. She said they need workshops and information more than the day before a meeting.
There was brief discussion about the landfill.
Finklea said that everything everybody wants in the budget is fine, but it costs money. He said there is only so much money, and Young had balanced the budget the best he can and this is what he came up with. Finklea said the only way to do anything any better if you want more things is to charge people more for their services and that would mean raising taxes much more.
Campbell said he thought there were some things in this budget not as pertinent as fire departments.
McLeod said that was the thing; they didn’t go over the budget by line item, and they can pull money for some things not as important. He said they can definitely make sure a fire department is open full time.
Finklea said he had a fire department in his district that answers about 20 times more calls than Station 5, and they have one engineer and are also not open after 5 p.m.
McLeod said that the citizens are depending on them to get this right.
Campbell talked about some of the things that he said were discussed in the workshops that weren’t in the budget.
There was a discussion about economic development.
Campbell said that Young was a one-stop shop—the administrator, the economic developer, and the HR (human resources) director and that the ball was being dropped everywhere.”
“Look at this budget. Do you see that?,” Campbell said.
Grice told Campbell to raise taxes like he was talking about. Campbell said if that was what they needed to do then that would be one thing, but right now they needed to take out some of the garbage that is in the budget.
Grice told Campbell that he (Campbell) was talking about doing another half a million dollars in spending. “Stevie, we can go through this budget and probably find another half a million dollars that’s wasted. I guarantee it.”
“But what you call wasted spending, somebody else might not think is wasted,” Grice said.
“Yeah, but what you have to do is put things in order on a scale of one to ten in order of importance,” Campbell said.
“That’s right,” Grice said. “Then you have a majority vote.”
“That’s true,” said Campbell. “But the majority vote knows something that we haven’t even put together. We haven’t even looked at this by line items, and you, per se, missed three of the meetings.”
Grice then took the podium to make some remarks.
(See story called “Councilman Grice Questions Councilman Campbell’s Residence” regarding what happened next at this link…https://www.dillonheraldonline.com/2021/07/11/councilman-grice-questions-councilman-campbells-residence/)
After Grice’s comments, Finklea asked if there was more discussion about the budget. Councilman Christopher Miller said he kept hearing that the council had cut the Sheriff’s budget, and he wanted to know where. He said he can’t find it.
The Sheriff was called up to answer this question. Sheriff Douglas Pernell said he worked closely with the council and that they had put a $200,000 salary raise in the budget in order to put some people to work. Pernell said he thinks where the mix-up is at is before anyone knew who was going to be the next Sheriff. As Sheriff Hulon was going out, he said some positions were cut from the jail, and he didn’t get those back in the budget, but he doesn’t want this to turn into the Sheriff’s Office versus council or anything like that. He said what they gave us, we’ll make it work.
He said the school was picking up the fee for the school resource officers in his budget. He said they would make it work with what they have. They understand there are shortfalls everywhere in this county and that they hope and pray that maybe next year, they can put some back into the jail if possible.
Pernell said let’s quit arguing and bickering. He said they need more help just to be up here (the council meetings). He said they have to come every meeting because all of this is going on. He said council needs to come together. He said the Sheriff’s Office is going to be alright.
Finklea said Sheriff you haven’t asked us for anything we haven’t given you that I know of.
No, Pernell said. He said we really haven’t gotten anything until the current budget has passed. We are operating off the previous budget, he said. This budget won’t go into effect until this passes. He said one thing we appreciate is that when this budget is passed, it will do away with Chinese overtime, which is half time, and go to straight time. He said this is going to be a big help to the people at the Sheriff’s Office and the Detention Center. He said he and the Chief were going to monitor the overtime. He again said council needed to work together.
Kenneth Smith then spoke about the Long Term Recovery Group and how it related to economic development.
The third reading was then held. It did not pass because it ended in a 3-3 tie because one councilman could not be present.
The council then passed an emergency ordinance to continue operating on the 2020-2021 budget until a new budget is passed. This way employees can continue to be paid, and the county can continue to operate.
Watch the meeting: