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County mulls $25.7 million budget

Jasper County is working under a tight budget.

At its June 5 meeting, Jasper County Council approved the second reading of its proposed $25,742,925 budget for fiscal year 2017-18.

The county’s budget closely mimics their budget from the previous year. Tax payers will be happy to see property taxes will not increase. Instead, it was recommended to county council to sustain the same millage.

Last year, the county approved pay raises for employees along with an improved benefits plan. During the year, the council pre-approved a $1.4 million increase in expenses, which are incorporated into this year’s budget.

“The pay raises we’ve approved mid-year and therefore did not affect last year’s budget, but they do need to be incorporated into this year’s budget,” said county administrator Andy Fulghum. “In order to accommodate for them this year, we are going to dip into the county surplus.”

Ronnie Malphrus, the county finance director, has worked to build up the county surplus for the past few years. He’s helped the county reach a steady 40 percent surplus of the general fund expenditures.

It’s recommended a municipality have a minimum of 25 percent ­­in ­surplus reserve. That money is generally used to cover costs of emergencies, like a hurricane or flood.

By drawing out $1.4 million from their surplus reserve, Jasper County will decrease its reserve to roughly 35 percent.

The pay raises constrained the county’s ability to increase the budget for departments like Emergency Services. The Emergency Services building was built in 1949 and is in need of major repairs, including a new roof, painting, and new heating and cooling units.

“We are aware of the problems in the Emergency Services building. We, along with them, are looking at all our options, including grants and exploring new buildings,” said Fulghum. “We are trying to think ahead.”

This year’s proposed budget will fund projects such as the Sheriff’s Reserve Officer program ($10,000), increase funding for the libraries ($38,400), and help cover costs for new county vehicles in the sheriff’s office ($200,000) and a new ambulance ($224,000).

Jasper County plans to conduct a rewrite of its comprehensive plan.

The comprehensive plan is a state report that dictates how land will be used and how growth is being administered. Traditionally, the guiding principal of Jasper County’s comprehensive plan is to grow the municipalities while keeping the outlying areas rural. This plan is reviewed yearly, but it’s good practice to review and rewrite the plan every 10 years or so, according to Fulghum.

“We have not had the opportunity, due to budget challenges, over the past years to do a full rewrite. This year, we are planning a full rewrite and will hire a consultant to help us with that.”

The county plans to increase its planning budget by $193,000 to cover the cost of hiring a consultant and evaluating the county to accurately carry out a comprehensive plan rewrite.

The third reading of the budget is set for June 19.

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