Anderson County budget gets second reading

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By Stan Welch

Anderson County Council agreed to provide the Anderson Interfaith Ministries with $10,000 to be used hopefully to leverage many thousands more in grants.

AIM’s proposal centered around the difference in the cost of demolishing substandard housing and the cost of repairing such housing; or better still using the money as matching funds for grants that could be many times that amount.

The funds will be taken from funds already budgeted for demolition of homes in the county. County Administrator Rusty Burns assured the Council that “We have demolished all the houses we can legally tear down this year. The rest of the possibilities are moving through the legal process.”

Only two Council members had any reservations about the request. One was District Two Councilwoman Gracie Floyd, who questioned providing funds that might be used within the Anderson City limits.

Floyd, whose district contains a significant amount of substandard housing, acknowledged that the number of houses demolished in her district during the last budget year equals almost as many as in the rest of the Council districts combined. “But I’m greedy. I’m going to vote for this because I respect the work ya’ll do. But from now on, my houses come first.”

District One Councilman Francis Crowder had other ideas about that. He pointed out that his district pays a much larger percentage of taxes than the other districts, and supported the establishment of a district by district approach. “In this upcoming budget, I’m going to seek a distribution of these funds to each district, based on how much tax they pay.”

Such a change, if approved by the full Council, would mark a sharp change in direction, as the trend in recent years has been to consolidate funds, and eliminate individual accounts. For example, for years, Council members had their own paving funds, which were widely seen as slush funds used to curry favor and votes during election years. This Council chose to put those funds under the control of the transportation department, which used them based on a prioritized list of needs.

As the meeting moved into a discussion of the budget, District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson, who offered a list of spending cuts at the last meeting, asked if any of the other members had any recommendations to make. Chairman Tommy Dunn said that he did, but would prefer to present them at a budget workshop.

Dunn said that it had been problematic to schedule a workshop that would allow every Council member to attend. Floyd complained that it taxed her to have to rearrange her schedule and then find that the other members wouldn’t be at the meeting, causing it to be cancelled. Floyd also challenged Crowder’s claim that the county has no employees who make as little as sixteen thousand dollars a year.

Floyd listed several, but Crowder countered by pointing out that the insurance benefits alone for such an employee can reach eleven thousand dollars, depending on the plan they choose.

Wilson chimed in, pointing out that ‘government jobs’ have always been attractive because of the excellent benefits. “A sixteen thousand dollar job in the private sector is in no way comparable to the same salary for a government job.” Floyd refused to concede the point, saying that you can’t take benefits to the grocery store.

Wilson then offered her list of spending cuts as an amendment to the budget. The motion was defeated. Councilman Eddie Moore then stated that “We have a surplus in the budget. I move that we reduce the millage by 1.5 mills. I’d like to see the Council step up and give some money back to the people. Let’s make a commitment to the folks out there.”

Councilman Crowder quickly explained the difference between a balanced budget, which describes the budget, and having a surplus. “We do not have a surplus in this budget. As this budget stands now, we cannot give any money back.”

Chairman Dunn also repeated that the General Assembly hasn’t confirmed the level of aid to local subdivisions that will be in the state budget. That amount strongly affects county budgets, and it has been reduced steadily in recent years. “Once we learn that number, we might find out real quick what we can and can’t do. I’d also remind the member from District Three that we returned one mill last year.”

Second reading approval was finally achieved with the assurance that at least one budget workshop will occur before final reading.