Aiken County Council has held two work sessions to hammer out the details of the county’s 2019-2020 fiscal year budget.

After the most recent budget discussion May 21, County Council Vice Chairman Andrew Siders said he was “pretty doggone sure” that the panel would be able to prevent an increase in property taxes.

“We’re going through and looking at the budget line by line to see if there is any waste, anything we can eliminate and anything we can modify. It’s a tedious process.”

County Council Chairman Gary Bunker, who expressed optimism at the beginning of the process, remained hopeful that taxes wouldn’t be raised.

“I think we’re still in a strong position to close the gap,” he said. “I believe we have some opportunities to increase some of the revenues through better estimates of those revenues. I think we have some opportunities to cut costs. And I think we have some opportunities to move some expenses (from the 2019-2020 fiscal year) to the current fiscal year. If we add up the little bits and pieces from all over the place, I believe we can get there.”

County Administrator Clay Killian and his staff prepared a proposed 2019-2020 budget that sets both the revenue and expenditures for the General Fund, which is used for day-to-day operating expenses, at $72,048,277.

The comparable figure for 2018-2019 was $68,216,665.

The proposed budget total for 2019-2020, including all funds, is $168,698,242.

Included in the budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, is an increase in the millage rate used to calculate property taxes from 68.5 mills to 71.6 mills.

The county is required by law to have a balanced budget.

During the May 21 budget work session, the focus was General Fund expenditures, and County Council got partway through its review of the figures for each county department.

The proposed 2019-2020 budget for the Information Technology Department “alone is about $5 million, and some of their line items are bigger than the budgets for other departments,” Bunker said. “The biggest one is the proposed replacement of the core server, and that (the cost) is about $1 million. But we will be able to fund that with the restricted fund balance that already has been reserved for that cost.”

For the 2018-2019 General Fund budget, County Finance Director Lynn Strom has projected a surplus of around $1.7 million.

“I am trying to challenge Clay to see if some of the other proposed expenses (for software and equipment replacement) in Information Technology (for 2019-2020) can be paid for out of the surplus (for 2018-2019),” Bunker said. “Part of that challenge is whether we can get a purchase order out in time before the end of the current fiscal year, so there is a timing issue.”

Bunker also reported that there was discussion about the possibility of merging the departments of the County Treasurer and the County Delinquent Tax Collector to save money and improve efficiency.

“The perspective of Jim Holly (the county attorney) is that it’s a no,” Bunker said. “Under our system of government, County Council can’t arbitrarily add to or subtract from the work scope of the treasurer per state law. I think there are some discussions still going on about what can and cannot be done.”

​Dede Biles is the Aiken County government, business and horse industry reporter for the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @DBethBiles.