Spending Not Managing
By Alex Saitta
July 27, 2018
By now I think most realize the Pickens County Council has closed the recycle centers on Wednesday and has added a load of days to the holiday schedule.
Two years ago, the county budget was $57.2 million. With all the new houses going up and new spending, the budget this year is $64.6 million. A healthy increase, but yet they canít maintain the existing level of essential services?
Part of skilled budget management is setting priorities. Essential services are at the top of the list. Cuts to essential services are a last resort and should be done only when facing a budget crunch, not when revenues are at record levels. This provides yet another example of how the new council knows how to spend money, but not manage it.
One of the mottos too many of our elected leaders live by is: see the tax money, get the tax money and once you have it, never let it go. This brings me to the county school board.
When you look at the annual property tax bill on your home, car or boat, you see an operations tax rate and a debt service tax rate for the school district. The debt service tax rate is 54 mills, and those taxes are used to pay for bonds issued to build and do upgrades on all these new schools.
Looking at the school districtís latest Debt Service Fund Statement, that account has an extra $4 million in it. The school board will tell you those surplus funds are necessary for cash flow, but when I was on the board and before I got there the board never hoarded cash in that account. We managed the account, used all those tax dollars for paying the annual debt service and passed on any savings to the taxpayers to chip away at the extremely high tax rate.
In November 2006 the school board passed the Greenville Plan, then borrowed nearly $400 million to be paid off in annual payments until 2032. As a result, the debt service tax rate sky-rocketed from 19 to 58 mills in 2007. As some of that debt has been paid off and more houses were built in the county, we passed on those savings and the tax rate naturally fell from 58 to 52 mills. The past few years, the board has increased borrowing again plus is hoarding this surplus in that account. As a result, the rate is back on the rise, now at 54 mills. If they didnít make this change, the tax rate would have continued to slowly fall and would be at 47 mills today, instead of 54.
In both instances, the hands went up, no one pushed back or even bothered to tell the rest of the story, and the public was never the wiser. Our councilmen and board members are working for the best interests of the system, not the people.