CORNER: The cost, now we know

 

The City of Clinton recently received its own Mueller Report. In a manner of speaking.

Those paying attention will remember that reporters asked, repeatedly, how much it was going to cost to split the Department of Public Safety into separate police and fire departments.

The answer, every time, was, “We don’t know.” Well, know we know. It’s going to cost a bunch.

Clinton City Council spent a few hours March 21 looking at the new proposed budget. A close look shows some very interesting numbers.

Keep in mind all the numbers are being proposed by the city manager. Council has to vote twice to approve the budget and a public hearing must be held.

The police department overall budget shows a $105,599 decrease — the entire decrease coming from no money being requested for capital purchases. In other words, no new police cars.

The city’s Department of Public Safety, through years of having no vehicle replacement plan, had reached a point where vehicles couldn’t be depended on to respond to a call and were as likely as not to just stop running during a pursuit.

City Manager Frank Stovall and DPS Director Robin Morse developed a vehicle replacement plan and, every year, the city budgeted around $100,000 to purchase new police vehicles.

Last year, when the city manager hired a fire chief for $70,000-plus, he was asked where in the budget the money would come from. He reply was he just wouldn’t buy any police cars.

Next year’s budget includes no money for police cars. We are headed back into having unsafe, undependable police vehicles.

The proposed fire budget is increased by $339,333 - the salary line item goes up by $266,303. When other benefits (retirement, social security, etc.) are factored in, the salary/wages account increases by $387,218.

The questions were asked over and over when the DPS was split — how much is this going to cost and how many firefighters and/or police officers do you need. “We don’t know.”

The police salary line item is flat, so we apparently have enough police officers. The city manager plans to hire new firefighters.

Total expenditures in the fire department will increase 37%.

Combined, the budgets for police and fire will increase by $233,734.

Taxes are going up a bit in the new budget. Electric rates are flat. Water and sewer rates jump by 9% as the city continues the utility sleight of hand — proclaiming no electric increase while water and sewer rates skyrocket.

Sewer revenue will increase $189,557, water revenue will go up $343,680. Residential garbage revenue will increase by $94,581 and the city plans to make $2,424 from selling new garbage containers to replace those being destroyed by the new garbage truck.

Salaries in the streets department will increase $119,970, while salaries in parks, recreation, library and cemetery go down by $72,468. Salaries in planning and inspections increase by $31,210, but operating expenses decrease by $34,200 (code enforcement is down by $7,000 and no money for membership dues or employee training).

Operational expenditures in the information technology account are going up $103,090 — a lot more spent on cyber security, to be part of the PMPA network, telephone and employee training.

Utility billing salaries are down $149,372.

On the revenue side, the city plans to receive $52,000 in law enforcement grants and $27,000 in PARD grants. 

The item that jumps out on the revenue page is that the City of Clinton is going to ask Laurens County to give them $450,000 to provide fire protection to the 5-mile ring around the city limits. This year, the county gave the city $279,744 to provide the same service.

The county is going to laugh at this request. And then the county is going to come up with a plan to start a new county fire department to serve the rural area around Clinton. Bank on it.

Before beginning the first public look at the budget, council moved into executive session for the city manager’s first evaluation. They came out and gave him a 2-year extension and a 2% raise. The vote was unanimous.

As The Big Bang Theory’s Penny would say: Holy crap on a cracker.

 

(Larry Franklin is retired and lives in Clinton. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chronicle.)

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Clinton, SC 29325
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