Time again to talk money in Georgetown

It seems like only yesterday that cities, counties and school boards were finally done wrangling with their budgets, but it is budget season again in Georgetown County.

The Georgetown County School District already has begun circulating ideas to raise money or cut spending, the city of Georgetown will begin its budget discussions at a budget retreat on Friday and Georgetown County is sure to soon follow.

Balancing this year's budget could be particularly difficult for the school district.

The district is expected to have about $6.5 million less than last year, said Superintendent Randy Dozier.

Reductions in state and federal funding and the loss of stimulus money account for much of that drop, he said.

The loss of about $2.5 million in stimulus funds will be fairly easy to correct because the district knew that money would be temporary, he said. But the rest will require deeper cuts into the district's $68 million budget.

The district recently sent out a list of potential suggestions for ways to raise money and cut costs.

Dozier said the list came from staff suggestions and he simply presented those suggestions to the district's employees to get feedback.

The list includes extreme measures such as closing Plantersville Elementary School, combining Carver's Bay middle and high schools and combining Plantersville and Browns Ferry middle schools.

But it also includes what Dozier said are more realistic suggestions, like increasing classes by an average of one student.

The district has avoided increasing classes in the past, but Dozier said this year "that's probably going to happen unless things change."

He said all of the suggestions are under review and the cost-savings associated with each are being calculated.

The City of Georgetown is also anticipating having less money to work with this year.

"This is a different kind of budget year because we don't know how everything will fall on the revenue side," said city administrator Chris Eldridge.

Eldridge said the city is anticipating having less from a number of funding sources, including the state's local government fund.

In its current budget, the city received about $237,000 from that state fund to help offset the cost of performing services mandated by the state.

But "we don't know what the state will do with that," Eldridge said. "We could lose none, to some, to all of that."

Georgetown County also would suffer from cuts to the local government fund.

The county, with an overall budget of around $61 million, received $2.2 million last year from that fund, but in previous years got more than $3 million.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway did not return calls for comment on the county's anticipated budget.

Eldridge said in addition to a potential loss of revenue, the city is also expecting its health insurance costs to increase.

He said the city switched to a new health insurance carrier last year to save money, but the costs are expected to rise some this year.

"We don't have a lot of numbers yet. We've still got a lot of things juggling in the air," Eldridge said. "It's hard. You want to start early but you don't want to start because there are so many question marks."

At its budget retreat Friday, city council and staff will discuss where the budget is expected to fall compared to last year's $32 million and any potential cuts that may be necessary.

The retreat, which is open to the public, will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kimbel Lodge of the Belle W. Baruch Institute at the Hobcaw Barony.