EDITORIAL - County’s date with destiny, Aug. 22
Laurens County Council faces what could be its most important meeting ever this Tuesday. It needs to pass a budget - there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen - and it needs to mend some fences.
The Aug. 22 meeting will be normal in terms of time and place - 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers of the historic courthouse in downtown Laurens. It will be normal in attendance - the meeting is open to the public under provisions of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Action (as amended, 2017).
It probably will have a public comments time, although after the fiasco of Aug. 8, we would seriously suggest the council do away with this aspect of its meeting. It has rules of conduct for speakers, but not for its own members.
It should have 3rd and final reading, and a public hearing on the FY18 General Fund and Fire Budgets. This might be the last time these are considered separately. There are indications that going forward, county finances will be just one big budget - not broken down into general, fire, higher education, victims advocate, capital tax levy, deficit reduction tax levy, and on and on. What’s the point anyway? Just collect the money and spend it, why break it up a thousand different ways.
The council is well behind the time it should have had a budget in place. Part of this is due to the fact that this is the first budget - the first Laurens County budget - developed by County Administrator Jon Caime. He has some very distinct ideas about what should be in the budget, and he’s had to explain those to council. Some of his proposals will not go into effect, yet. Others he likely will fight for. The county doesn’t really need to raise taxes, but it’s going to - for “maintenance of effort” reasons. They thought about raising the fire budget taxes, but these already are bringing in 117% of revenue that was budgeted last year, so why does it need even more of the public’s money. Yes, the Fire Service is building more fire stations, but these are funded through a bond - something that county taxpayers already are paying off, separate from operations taxes. It seems unlikely that the county is going to pay the Cities of Clinton and Fountain Inn more money to fight fires, so 100% of revenues collected should be enough - the extra 17% can pay for something else in the firefighting arena.
Most of all, the Laurens County Council needs to bring a sense of stability to the public that watches and comments on its transactions. Fruitful, positive differences of opinions allowed - leave all yelling and bullying outside. All members of the county council must be present for the Aug. 22 meeting. We also would do away with council comments time - if a member has an idea that makes the county better include it as an agenda item, for discussion and possible action. Don’t let members cast their votes on the phone, and if a member cannot attend, hook up him or her on Skype. Allow all 7 members - and we cannot emphasize this enough - equal voice and weight in discussions of ideas that make the county better. By better, we mean fully protected by law enforcement, fire and EMS with full 911 coverage, run professionally with all employees feeling empowered, supportive of education, and with just a small portion of the public’s money carved out for “the human element” of Laurens County life (the old, the disabled, the mentally challenged, the semi-literate, the victims of criminal domestic violence and child abuse).
Less talking, much less yelling.
More finding money that does not need to be spent. More putting that money into the lives of people who need it, and the life-changing services that tax money can provide. More of everything that’s going to make Laurens County the shining star of Upstate South Carolina.
Or not. It’s the simply choice of Laurens County Council.