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Georgetown County coffers stable with no point of sale law

If the General Assembly revives a bill to repeal point of sale provisions in state law, it could mean less revenue for Georgetown County for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, said County Administrator Sel Hemingway.

So far the county has been able to survive the recession and balance its budget by eliminating 28 positions, implementing a 3 percent pay cut for all employees and eliminating cost of living increases - saving the county about $700,000.

A repeal of the point of sale bill could rock the stability the county has built, by removing a portion of revenue derived from property taxes.

"On the revenue side, we do not expect any significant increases," Hemingway said. "Our most optimistic estimate is a 1 percent increase; 2011 will be similar to 2010. ... We have no indication at this point that things are expected to get better on the revenue side. A lot of this is dependent to a larger degree to what happens in Columbia."

The Georgetown County Council met Tuesday to get preliminary information about the budget forecast and an update on the current budget.

"No one can predict what's going to happen to local government funds," Hemingway said.

The bill would repeal the provision in state tax law that uses the price of a property when it's sold to determine property value assessment.

The way things stand now, when property is reassessed every five years, the property value increases are capped by 15 percent.

However, if the property is sold, the county can collect taxes on the sale price and there are no caps.

The bill also would place a moratorium on point of sales collections for 2010.

"We will continue to monitor what happens in Columbia," Hemingway said, but for now the proposal has yet to get much traction.

So far the county is on target with projected expenditures and most projected revenues for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The county faces a $39,000 shortfall in the victim services fund because revenues came in lower than expected. Any remaining fund balances will be used to balance the budget.

In the 2010-2011 year, the county is expecting workers' compensation insurance and fuel costs to rise.

But at this point the county is not considering more pay cuts or layoffs.

Taxes also are not expected to increase, Hemingway told council members Tuesday.

Instead, department heads are being asked to look at their budgets to find things that could be done more efficiently. One possibility might be delaying replacing older vehicles. County employees will not be getting a pay raise this year.

Councilman Ron Charlton asked about stimulus funding.

"I keep hearing there is some stimulus funding out there unused," Charlton said. "Are we looking at getting some of that funding for Georgetown County?"

Charlton recommended seeking stimulus funding to help finish U.S. 521, which could help attract Boeing contractors and help the port of Georgetown.

Hemingway said department heads have access to a computer program that tracks stimulus funding opportunities and alerts officials when something becomes available.

Some stimulus money has already been awarded to help defray the costs of an energy efficiency system the county is installing.

The County Council is expected to have the budget ready for its first vote in April.