The Beaufort County Council on Monday approved a $97.1 million budget for 2012-13 that includes a 2 percent raise for county employees and maintains existing service levels without raising property taxes. The budget, which passed unanimously, takes effect July 1.
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The Beaufort County Council endorsed the school district's request for a tax increase to buy iPads on Monday night.
In an 8-3 vote, council members supported the district's $177.9 million budget, which includes $1.8 million to buy iPad II tablets for thousands of middle and high school students.
A final council vote on the budget proposal is expected June 25.
Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said she's "hopeful" the budget will survive the final vote intact.
"We are very encouraged that the County Council has seen for the second time in six years to support an increase in the budget," she said. "We are hopeful that on third reading their support will sustain."
Aside from the iPads, the proposed budget would eliminate 30 positions and include state-mandated raises for all district staff. It also would bring a property-tax increase of about $30 on a $250,000 non-owner-occupied home.
The tax increase could be reduced depending on the outcome of budget negotiations under way in the state legislature. The budget bill passed by the S.C. Senate would mean about $2.2 million in additional state funding for the district, and district officials have pledged that money to offset the tax hike.
The County Council has final say over the school district's budget, setting the property tax rate and an upper limit on spending. Council members cannot adjust individual line items, which is the school board's responsibility.
A half-dozen people spoke Monday against the measure, arguing that higher property taxes -- which fall on second homes and businesses, not primary homes -- could hurt the tourism and second-home industries.
"I am here representing the goose that laid the golden egg," said James Wedgeworth, a Realtor on Hilton Head Island. "I am asking you all to please be considerate of the taxpayers in this county."
Others said the school district already receives enough funding for what they called lackluster results.
Some councilmen, however, indicated they've heard enough negative comments about the school system, which they described as being on the right track.
"I think some of you just need to find out about more that is going right with the school district," said Councilman Rick Caporale, who voted for the district's budget. "Good things are happening all the time."
Councilman Paul Sommerville also supported the budget plan, even though it would mean higher taxes on rental properties he owns.
"Both my children have iPads," he said. "I have seen what those iPads can do for children. It is virtually unlimited."
Councilmen Brian Flewelling, Steve Baer and Weston Newton opposed the budget, citing opposition to the tax increase.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.