Simpsonville’s city staff and council are currently working on potential solutions to leaf and brush pickup, but there are other concerns that need to be reconciled with the 2016-17 budget that is currently in progress. The council held a third budget workshop on Thursday, May 4 to review the options compiled by City Administrator Eddie Case and Finance Director Christine Furino.
Budget options for 2016-2017
Each of the five proposed avenues were presented with a tax increase option that would generate $269,200 in new revenue for the city. Four of the options included securing a General Obligation Bond (G.O. Bond) that would require repayment.
The single option that fulfills the brush and leaf pickup service, personnel needs, and capital requests leaves the city in debt to the tune of six figures. That’s with both a tax increase and a bond.
Choosing what to cut to return the budget to black is no easy task. The personnel needs are particularly difficult to ignore as the load on existing employees gets heavier over time, and expenses continue to outweigh the city’s growth in tax revenue.
Assistant Fire Chief and Deputy Police Chief positions
With the opening of fire station 5 on Standing Springs road fast approaching, Fire Chief Wesley Williams says an assistant Chief position is sorely needed, and an increased call volume is compounding the need. The position is also critical to Simpsonville as it creates an experienced successor for Chief Williams.
While the city is expecting a 6% growth in its tax base over the next budget year, that also means more calls for service for the Police and Fire Departments.
Interim Police Chief Mike Hanshaw says the existing Deputy Chief position will be left vacant for now. The city plans to dissolve the special role as it is no longer necessary.
Planner II Position
The other key personnel position is a Planner II. This is an existing role that was left vacant when City Planner Jason Knudsen was promoted. Covering for both positions, Knudsen has been forced to leave one important task in Simpsonville on the back burner, and that’s economic development.
The city’s inability to prepare for the influx of growth has impacted both infrastructure and quality of life.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Jennifer Hulehan spoke on the importance of a long-range plan, and her frustration. “What we must have is a strategic plan–a long-term vision for the future of this city and a measurable plan to achieve it over the next 5, 10, 15 years.” While she still does not support a tax increase, she does believe planning is more important than leaf and brush pickup for this budget.
Council divided on a tax increase
While Mayor Janice Curtis and Councilwoman Hulehan agree that a tax increase is not an acceptable solution, ward 2 Councilman Taylor Graham advocated for one, or several, “My cumulative statement here is that while people don’t like to hear it, it’s something that needs to be brought up and discussed. And that is a progressive tax increase over the years.”
While the city’s reserve fund is currently a little over $700,000, Case advised that cleaning it out would negatively affect the city’s credit rating. City Attorney David Holmes also cautioned against the use of the fund out of concern for the city’s bridges and other potential emergencies.
The rest of the budget
Other needs include improvements to City Park, where aging lights have become an issue for the recreation department and the city’s youth leagues. These items may be the first to be stricken from the crowded expense list.
The overall budget includes a 3% salary increase for employees, an 8% increase in health benefits, and a 2% increase in retirement benefits.
What’s next for Simpsonville’s budget
While it is unknown if citizens support a tax increase to restore brush and leaf service, the new expenses proposed in the budget require that all options be explored.
Between now and May 11, Case and Furino will prepare additional budget options and answer some of the questions posed by council. The fourth budget meeting will be held on that date, 3pm, at City Hall. The meeting will be formally announced at the regular Council Meeting on Tuesday, May 9.