The James Island PSD Commission continues to haggle over 2013-14 working budget
How Much is Too Much?
JIPSD Commission haggles over budget, approves first reading to increase budget without raising millage rate
By Charlie Morrison | Community Editor
Nearly three weeks ago the James Island Public Service District (JIPSD) Commission voted on a first reading of a resolution to pass a working budget for the upcoming, 2013-2014 fiscal year. The vote ultimately ended in a deadlock, with three commissioners voting in favor of the proposed budget, three opposed, and one member of the body, Commissioner Rod Welch, absent from the meeting. The motion to pass budget was tabled until last Monday night, when, at the April 8 meeting of the JIPSD Commission the presence of all seven elected officials all but guaranteed the body would come to some decision regarding the budget.
The group ultimately did vote to pass a first reading of the original budget proposal, the very one they’d tabled two week prior, but not before the group considered a handful of amendments introduced by Welch proposing alternative ways to fund projected budget shortfalls. While the body largely agreed on the necessity of rewarding its more than 125 employees, how to do so became the topic of the evening and was treated to a feisty debate.
In the end, the group voted to approve first reading of the coming year’s budget, which would continue the JIPSD’s policy to pay employees a cost of living wage increase (3 percent) along with up to 2.5 percent in potential merit bonuses. The budget did not propose a change to the millage rate, instead drawing the reminder of necessary funding from the body’s fund balance, which currently sits at more than $3 million.
The crux of the debate was whether the money should come from an increase to the JIPSD’s millage rate (property tax) or through drawdowns from the body’s fund balance. Welch first explained the reasoning behind the body maintaining a large fund balance, before the full Commission weighed in.
“The purpose (of maintaining a large fund balance) is to provide the JIPSD immediate financial flexibility to be utilized in recovering from an environmental emergency,” Welch said. “If you’re running an organization and you want the organization to survive shocks such as a hurricane, you need a substantial balance.”
“I would just ask us all to remember Hurricane Hugo. I guess it was so long ago, that many of us have forgotten how long it kept us off-track,” commented Commissioner Eugene Platt,.
Commissioner Inez Brown-Crouch, however, remained undeterred in her determination not to raise taxes and questioned the need for a fund balance along with the prospect of raising taxes.
“I voted against this last time because we were going to increase taxes. The reason I did is that with that kind of fund balance we have it doesn’t make sense to increase taxes,” said Brown-Crouch. “I think now I’m not for a tax increase and I don’t feel we need that $2 million fund balance.”
Commissioner June Waring agreed. “There are fund balances and there are fund balances, but with expenditures of about $6 million with $3 million in the fund balance, that’s a little out of plum for me,” commented Commissioner June Waring, who went on to note that JIPSD constituents had recently borne the burden of another tax increase, to that of their sewer services.
After the various amendments were sufficiently vetted, Council collectively moved to vote. The group first voted on the last of the six alternatives, an amendment that mandated a $1000 employee bonus and a 2-point millage increase in the coming fiscal year, to be followed by subsequent millage increases projected for the 2016-7, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 fiscal years. The measure ensures that JIPSD millage rates will remain the amongst the lowest in the County, however it does punt the problem of balancing the budget down the field for another year.
That vote came to a stalemate, with Commissioners David Engelman (Chair), Platt, and Welch voting for the proposal, Commissioners Brown-Crouch, McMillan and Waring voting against it, and Commissioner Donald Hollingsworth who, after a lengthy pause, abstained from the vote.
It was Commissioner Waring who prodded the group forward making a motion to vote on the original proposal, which negated any increase in millage but cut into the body’s general fund. “I think this takes care of our employees but it also takes care of our taxpayers, accounting for the other taxes and our heavy, heavy sewer rate,” said Waring in defense of the proposal.
The vote on the motion was equally tight, but decisive. Commission Chair Engelman proved the deciding vote, joining Brown-Crouch, McMillan, and Waring in voting “yes” on the initial budget proposal forgoing an increase to the JIPSD millage rate in favor of a reduction in the fund balance. The vote carried to a second reading by a four to three margin, with a second reading of the proposed budget will be heard at next meeting of the JIPSD Commission, to be held on Monday, April 22 at 7 p.m.
Commission meetings are held at JIPSD headquarters, located at 1739 Signal Point Rd. For more information, see http://www.jipsd.org, email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call their office at 795-9060.
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