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Ridgeland approves $4.34 million budget

As a new fiscal year arrives, the town of Ridgeland recently approved a $4,344,054 budget for 2017-18 .

Ridgeland is looking to invest in ongoing projects while lowering property taxes, town administrator Dennis Averkin said.

“We’re proud of this budget,” Averkin said at the June 1 regular meeting.

At the start of the year, Ridgeland began work on its water-sewer renovation project. In the upcoming fiscal year, the town hopes to finish evaluating the sewer system and submit the rehabilitation plans. By the end of the year, it hopes to begin implementation.

There’s $1.971 million budgeted for water and sewer.

Last year, Ridgeland increased its millage by seven mills, which led to a slight increase in property taxes. But this year the town will lower property taxes, with a millage rate of 126.48 and a tax credit factor of 0.04.

Breaking down that impact, for a homeowner with a house worth $100,000: In 2016-17, homeowners paid $130.80 in property taxes. With the new millage and credit factor for FY18, that same homeowner will pay $105.92.

“Your key takeaways are people will not see any increase in their taxes; they’ll actually see a decrease. There are no cuts in services at all,” Averkin said last week.

“We are increasing our investment in the water and sewer department – a lot of engineering projects that are underway. We are also internally funding purchases of vehicles, primarily for police through the general fund, no longer through the drug fund.”

During the Obama administration, an order was passed that limited the amount of money a municipality could collect from drug busts and seizures. Municipalities used to collect about 50 percent of the net worth of seized contraband. After the order was changed, municipalities could collect only about 10 percent of the net worth.

That collected money would go into the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture (drug fund) to be used by the municipality to fund projects. The town’s $80,000 security camera project, installed last year, was paid through the fund.

This year, the town plans to purchase three new police cars, totaling $30,000, and add $38,000 to Employer Retirement. Instead of using the drug fund for these expenses, they’ll be funded through the town’s general fund, which Averkin says is a good trend to start.

“I think we should take a more comprehensive approach on things. I don’t think we should rely on drug seizure account to balance the budget,” he said.

“It’s a lot easier for me as an administrator to have a capital plan for all the departments. So it allows us to kind of look at things more comprehensively.”

This year’s budget is optimistic for good business growth in town. Last year, the town saw business permits increase by 200 percent, numbers Averkin said haven’t been seen since before the recession in 2008.

“Overall, we’re pretty happy about this year’s budget,” Averkin said.

Emergency dispatch concerns

Every year, for the past 13 years, the town and the city of Hardeeville have each paid $55,000 to Jasper County to help cover the cost of the operation of the emergency dispatch center.

This year, Jasper County increased the operational fee, for both municipalities, by $10,000 – bringing the cost to $65,000 for FY18. That fee will also increase next year by another $10,000, totaling $75,000 for FY19.

“We’re still in negotiations with the county about this. I will say, first off, Jasper County is the only county that I’m aware of in the state that would charge municipalities for a service that they should normally provide. In essence, they’re double-dipping,” Averkin said.

“They’re charging people on their property tax bill, everyone pays the county tax, and now they want municipalities to throw them – what, we go from 55 (thousand) to 75 (thousand) in two years – and for what? Basically, we’re getting 1.8 calls per hour that are directly attributed to Ridgeland, less than two calls per hour. I just don’t see the justification for it.

With that said, I’m hopeful we can come to an equitable arrangement, but I think it’s disingenuous to be double-dipping, so to speak. People pay for this service in their county tax bill. They shouldn’t have to pay for it again.”

The county and two municipalities have a dispatch agreement and a fire service agreement with the county. The county fields all dispatch calls for emergency services and then directs whichever service center — county, Ridgeland, or Hardeeville — is closest to respond to the incident.

It was agreed that Hardeeville and Ridgeland would help cover some operational costs of the dispatch center. Those agreements are up for renegotiation in two years, according to county administrator Andy Fulghum.

“The participation by both municipalities, Hardeeville and Ridgeland, the funding scenario has not changed for the last 13 years.

“That was the genesis for the discussion of, ‘Are we going to continue this relationship and what is it going to look like, and who is paying what?’ We did that all last year,” Fulghum said.

“Because they are roughly about a third of the calls that the dispatch department has to serve, it was agreed upon that they would pay roughly $55,000.”

Chatham County has a similar agreement with the local municipalities for dispatch operation, Fulghum said.

Fulghum also noted Hardeeville and Ridgeland are not required to have their own police and fire departments, but opted to do so in order to provide higher-quality service to residents. By doing so, the county has more calls to field at the dispatch enter.

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