Horry County Council will meet for its annual spring budget retreat later this week and will hear of no tax or millage increases, but will consider a proposal for a 2 percent cost of living increase for its employees.
County officials will outline the proposed $138 million general fund budget for 2015 on Thursday and Friday. The county operates on a fiscal year, which begins July 1.
County Administrator Chris Eldridge is calling for the 2 percent pay increase for employees, similar to one approved last year, to catch employees up on “take home pay” after many were struck with higher insurance rates in previous years. Eldridge also asked department leaders to trim 1 percent from their budgets this year, said Lisa Bourcier, spokeswoman for the county.
“The first reading of the budget is scheduled for Friday. If passed, we will need to have two more readings prior to June 30,” Bourcier said. “Not sure if any budget workshops are planned. This may be discussed at the budget retreat.”
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The process began in November when the council had its fall budget retreat. Councilmen and Council Chairman Mark Lazarus outlined their desires for the upcoming budget, and Lazarus changed the way the budgets are presented.
“I’ve asked that each department, whether they’re elected official or department heads, I want them presenting their own budget,” Lazarus said. “The reason I did that is because I want to know that they bought into their budget, too. I don’t want anyone to come in afterward and say, ‘Well, [Assistant Administrator for Public Safety] Paul Whitten presented my budget for me and that’s not exactly what we wanted.’ I want council to be able to look eye-to-eye with each of the division heads and department leaders and be able to know that that’s their budget. They bought into it. They worked directly with the assistant administrators, built their budgets and that’s what they’re taking back to their staffs. I think it’s going to be a great process, and that way everybody owns it at that time, instead of having any controversy over it.”
Lazarus said there were questions in past years when assistant county administrators would present budgets for departments they oversaw, and it wasn’t precisely what the department head wanted.
The planned budget calls for allocating money for a $500,000 litter cleanup program, of which half would be funded with the county’s general fund and the other half with accommodations tax money, Lazarus said. He said new additions to the budget occur, like it did last year when county police launched a neighborhood task force.
Lazarus said the 2 percent for employees is overdue. Information presented at last year’s spring retreat showed Horry County’s employee turnover rate for 2012 was 13.04 percent. That compares to the 6.25 percent for Myrtle Beach, 9.75 percent at Coastal Carolina University, 12 percent in Charleston County and 16 percent in Richland County during that same period, according to Horry County.
“Hopefully that’s going to get them back up and we’re stabilizing the health insurance,” Lazarus said.