By Stan Welch
The Anderson County Council approved a $73 million budget Tuesday night, with District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson maintaining her perfect record of having never voted for a proposed budget on the final reading.
A two and a half mill increase that was originally proposed was whittled down to one point eight mills, with the value of a mill set at $650,000; a figure that will likely increase once reassessment is complete.
Budget deliberations that preceded Tuesday night’s vote resulted in reductions of three hundred sixty two thousand dollars. In addition, all department heads were tasked with finding an additional two per cent in savings across the board.
That effort not only resulted in a balanced budget, but also generated an additional quarter of a million dollars for the Sheriff’s Office to use in increase the starting salary for new deputies from thirty one thousand dollars, one of the lowest figures in the Upstate, to thirty seven thousand five hundred dollars. That figure is still surpassed by several county and city departments in the area, but Sheriff McBride did state at Monday’s budget work shop that it lets his department compete for officers.
“The Anderson County Sheriff’s Office lost approximately two hundred officers in the last three years before my administration came in. We don’t want to see that cycle repeating itself. In addition, with the current atmosphere towards law enforcement in this country, the increased violence against police, and the endless scrutiny of police officers is rapidly shrinking the pool of candidates. Law enforcement is losing a lot of its appeal as a career, which makes the competition for good candidates even tougher. This extraordinary effort by this Council and administration to provide some incentive for the department makes a strong statement to our officers that they are valued.”
Councilwoman Wilson sought a six month hiring freeze and additional cuts to the animal shelter funding, citing lower numbers of animals coming into the shelter. But Chairman Tommy Dunn and District Four Councilman Tom Allen both defended the shelter program, which had already seen cuts approaching two hundred thousand dollars, pointing out that the percentage of animals saved had more than doubled in recent years to a current level of ninety two per cent.
“I think Dr. Sanders has put together a tremendous program. She is spaying and neutering thousands of animals each year, and has provided great expertise in shepherding some of our more difficult animal cruelty cases through the courts. We are approaching the status of a no kill shelter, and I would hate to see us taking steps backwards,” said Allen.
The county’s budget challenges were not alleviated by a miniscule increase in the local aid to subdivisions returned to the county by the General Assembly. A statewide reimbursement of ten million dollars to forty six counties resulted in “no discernible difference”, according to finance director Rita Davis.
The final vote on the budget was five to one, with Wilson opposed and Councilwoman Floyd absent, due to health issues.