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Those crafting next year's Beaufort County budget plan to start with three main objectives: raising county employees' pay, preparing for higher fuel costs and not increasing taxes.
County employees have not received raises in the last four years and were furloughed for one week last year, deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said during a presentation Monday to the Finance Committee. County administrator Gary Kubic said he fears that's putting too much strain on workers and hurts recruitment and retention.
The county has about 57 fewer employees than four years ago and spends about $3 million less on salaries than in 2009, according to a staff report.
"Over the last four years we have steadfastly not re-employed folks into open lines and judiciously tried to make sure we could get all our services done with less people," Hill said.
It also has been four years since property taxes have been raised, Kubic said.
Increasing costs of fuel, electricity and replacing equipment could also pinch the budget.
Hill said an increase in gas prices from $3.25 to $4.10 a gallon could cost an extra $460,000. An increase in electricity costs could add another $270,000 to the budget.
The county staff will present a rough draft of the budget to County Council in the next few weeks. Recommendations from the staff on matters such as tax increases and employee raises will be made to guide council members in forming the final budget. The budget is due by June 30 and takes effect July 1.
Not increasing taxes and giving county employees a raise were voted as two of County Council's top 10 priorities during its annual retreat in February.
Council members Bill McBride and Laura Von Harten, however, said they would be willing to increase taxes if necessary to maintain services.
County staff should not focus only on creating a budget that doesn't raise taxes, McBride said.
"I would approve a millage increase," Von Harten said. "I won't say how much, but for me, it's not off the table."
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