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County Council passes $94M budget

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Recreation bond proposal soars to $14 million

By Gregory A. Summers

Two big-ticket financial matters won unanimous votes from Lancaster County Council on June 25.
The council gave final approval to the county’s $94 million budget for fiscal 2018-19, which includes a property tax increase and employee pay raises.
And council members approved the second of three readings on the ordinance placing a recreation bond referendum on the November ballot, with the amount rising to $14 million from $11 million after cost estimates for two of the five projects in-creased.
The new county spending plan, which took effect Sunday, July 1, was approved without discussion. It is an increase of $11.1 million from the previous budget.
The budget includes a $52.8 million general fund for the county’s day-to-day operations and $41.2 million for special revenue funds including debt service, capital projects and other items, such as courthouse security and USC Lancaster.
The budget features an overall property tax millage of 105.9 mills, up from 100.1 mills a year earlier. A taxpayer will pay an additional $39.20 in taxes on a $100,000 home and $17.78 more on a $30,000 car.
Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis noted that the tax increase is attributed to both the millage increase and to a decrease in the local option sale tax (LOST) credit factor, which provides a property-tax rollback for homeowners.
Of the $39.20 tax hike on a $100,000 home, $23.20 of the increase is from the millage hike and $16 is from the decrease in the sales tax credit. 
The budget includes a 2 percent pay increase for employees. Plus the county’s contributions for employees’ retirement and health-care costs both went up, Willis said.
Recreation bond
Council members got some sticker shock June 25 when the cost to build soccer fields in Indian Land and the Heath Springs/Kershaw area came in about $3 million higher than anticipated, pushing the total for the five projects to $14 million.
Council did not have firm numbers on those costs when first reading of the bond ordinance passed earlier this month.
Officials are putting together the county’s first recreation bond referendum for voters to consider in November’s general election.
The measure must be forwarded to the state election commission by August to be included on the ballot.
The projects include:
• Remodeling and expanding the Indian Land Recreation Center on U.S. 521 at $4.3 million.
• Developing a $3.4 million soccer complex near the Avondale development on Harrisburg Road. The initial cost estimate was $2.5 million.
• Building a $3.5 million soccer complex on Kershaw Camden Highway between Heath Springs and Kershaw, with a site to be selected. The initial estimate was $1.1 million.
• Making $200,000 in improvements to the Barr Street auditorium in Lancaster.
• Setting aside $2.5 million to partially fund the first phase of the Lindsay Pettus Greenway in Lancaster.
The IL complex would be built on 10 acres near Harrisburg Elementary School that Avondale developers gave the county.
After almost 30 minutes of discussion, council nixed the idea of putting down artificial turf at the two soccer complexes. That would have raised the overall total for the  bond referendum to $19 million.
If voters approve it at $14 million, it would equate to about an $12 increase in property taxes on a $100,000 home. And it will be a “yes” or “no” question on the ballot.
“At $11 million, we’re underfunding everything based on the estimates we’ve got and won’t have enough money to do something,” said County Councilman Brian Carnes.
Councilman Billy Mos-teller said his main concern is whether county voters will support the referendum with the estimated costs growing. Not all voters, he noted, have children that use the rec facilities.
“Third reading we could amend it, but tonight it’s $14 million,” said Councilwoman Charlene McGriff.
Third reading on the bond will be July 16.


Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at (803) 283-1156.