County Council approves 2019-2020 budget that doesn't include a property tax increase 1

Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker, second from left, discusses amendments to the ordinance establishing the county's 2019-2020 fiscal year budget during work session before County Council's meeting Tuesday at the Aiken County Government Center. At the far left is Aiken County Attorney Jim Holly.

“We crossed the finish line tonight without a tax hike,” said Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker after the panel he heads unanimously approved the county’s budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 last Tuesday.

The vote took place after the third and final reading of an ordinance that establishes the financial plan.

All nine members of County Council were present for the meeting, which was held at the Aiken County Government Center.

The budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, includes a General Fund with both revenues and expenditures of around $71.8 million, based on Bunker’s calculations.

The General Fund provides money to pay for the county’s day-to-day operating expenses.

An amendment, which County Council also approved unanimously Tuesday, removed from the budget a property tax increase that County Administrator Clay Killian had recommended in his proposed 2019-2020 financial plan.

It would have raised the millage rate from 68.5 mills to 71.6 mills.

In addition, the amendment authorizes pay raises of at least 1 percent for all county employees.

Emergency Medical Services and Aiken County detention center workers, along with dispatchers, will receive increases of 4 percent in their salaries.

“I was gratified that Council supported a budget that not only does not increase the millage rate, but also provides some increase (in pay) for all of our county employees,” Bunker said. “It was a tough budget year for Council. I think there was a lot of cooperation with county staff, and Council, as a whole, put in a lot of work during multiple, very long budget work sessions. We had some very good discussion about the various proposals.”

Council approved other amendments to the Killian’s proposed 2019-2020 budget during Tuesday’s meeting.

Among them were the following:

• A reduction in the stormwater fee for county properties outside of municipalities from $16 to $10.

• Upgrades in positions for employees in the Register of Mesne Conveyance office that will result in them earning more money.

• Upgrades in positions for employees who work for Aiken County’s magistrates that will result in them earning more money.

• The establishment of a Mental Health Court that will allow offenders with a qualifying mental illness to plead guilty, receive treatment and successfully complete a program to avoid a jail sentence.

In other action Tuesday, County Council unanimously approved the third and final readings of two ordinances dealing with tiny home issues.

One of the ordinances sets a minimum size for residences located in a Residential Single-Family Conservation (RC) zoning district.

Such structures can have no less than 750 square feet of heated living area.

There is no size minimum in the county’s other zoning districts.

The other ordinance restricts the location of future recreational vehicle parks and campgrounds to the Rural Community (RUC), Rural Development (RUD) and Urban Development (UD) zoning districts.

Previously, parks and campgrounds were allowed in several other zoning districts in the county.

Tiny homes on wheels will be restricted to the RUC, RUD and UD zoning districts because they will be considered recreational vehicles under the county’s Code of Ordinances.

Existing recreational vehicle parks, campgrounds and tiny homes on wheels not located in the RUC, RUD and UD zoning districts will be allowed to remain in their locations.

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