Georgetown budget passes with increase

With some minor changes Thursday night the Georgetown City Council passed a budget of about $32.7 million, an increase of $5.8 million from the previous year.

The increases were spread across various departments, through rising medical, gas, utility and equipment maintenance costs.

Among the biggest expenses is repairs for the Harborwalk, which is the focal point of downtown Georgetown. The council approved spending $600,000 to repair the Harborwalk. The city also voted to spend about $76,000 in salary and benefits to hire a planning director and to set aside $50,000 for developing the recently purchased Eagle Electric property into an economic asset for the city.

Some line items faced additional scrutiny from the council, including about $98,000 in miscellaneous costs. The items were listed as operational costs throughout all departments without listing their specific purposes, which drew the attention of councilman Rudolph Bradley.

"We are trying to cut the budget as low as possible and maintain a dollar amount that will still allow us to serve the city," he said. "Miscellaneous, is a very loose term. ... You should know where the money is being spent. I don't see where it is needed in the budget. I don't feel comfortable putting loose money in the budget."

Finance Director Jessica Miller explained the operation cost is listed because it does not fit into any other category currently listed and serves as a catch all. The items usually purchased by the miscellaneous account include one-time expenditures like recognition plaques the city gives to citizens and employees. It also pays for lunches and events hosted by the town.

Without it, the council would have to come back and approve each of those purchases individually, or face scrutiny from auditors.

Other items were cut or did not receive funding Tuesday. The council decided not to allocate $50,000 to The Coast Regional Transportation Authority for a new five day a week Georgetown city bus route. The council also voted against hiring a tourism and economic development director.

"I could see the value of it , but at this time I am opposed to it," Bradley said. " It not job of government to promote private business. ... I prefer using that money and going back to the chamber of commerce. Our downfall was giving them the money without telling them what to do."

Mayor Jack Scoville and Councilman Paige Sawyer advocated hiring the position.

"Here we are in the height of economic bad times, Georgetown has lost population, the steel mill has closed, we have unfinished development on South Island Road, and businesses are struggling. ... This is ideal time to get someone to market and promote Georgetown to prospective businesses and residents. For us to shun the opportunity, and to not to have [someone] promoting what we have is foolish."

The council decided to wait until a strategic plan could be completed in a few months to determine whether or not to hire a tourism and economic development director.

"If we don't fund this position, and we complete this plan, and we find we need it, we could amend the budget," said Councilwoman Jeanette Ard.

In recent months the council has struggled with the decision on how to distribute and award about $1 million in hospitality tax money. Without a set of criteria the council voted against giving $100,000 to the Winyah auditorium and funds to the Georgetown County Chamber to market the city. The council will meet again in July to discuss hospitality tax criteria.