City of Florence avoids budget cuts

Florence, SC - By Brandon Herring - bio | email

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The City Council of Florence met for an all-day budget work session Friday. By the end of the day, council members and administrative staff finalized their plan for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

Mayor Stephen Wukela said the annual budget exceeds $60 million, and keeping the budget balanced was challenging because income from sales tax has been lower than projected. Nonetheless, he said Florence still has a lot of industry that provides a stable tax base.

"I think it's a tough budget year. It's a tight budget, but we're well managed fiscally in the city and we're reaping the benefit of that," Wukela said. "We're going to be able to attract major industry, and with the help of Florence County and the Economic Development Partnership and others who have helped us recruit the industry we have, we have suffered less than our neighbors."

As a result, the upcoming Florence budget does not include any layoffs for employees or cuts in salaries. Employees will also receive scheduled cost-of-living pay increases and merit-based raises.

"We have a number of positions that we're not going to fill that we'd like to fill, but we're going to continue to operate on the staff that we have and frankly do more with less," Wukela said.

The city is also moving forward with two capital projects involving new construction. A new fire station will be built on Redbud Lane near South Florence High School. Wukela said council planned ahead to fund the construction with an increase to the millage rate.

The city has also been putting away money for the construction of a new $100 million wastewater treatment plant. Because funding for the project has been secured in advance, the upcoming budget will not be affected. Also, during planning for the budget city council learned the expected interest rate on the loan for the project has dropped.

Wukela estimates the savings will be about $45 million over several years.

The current wastewater treatment plant is nearing capacity. If another treatment facility is not built, Wukela said the Department of Health and Environmental Control will not allow the city or the county to issue new water and sewer permits. That would mean a halt in new development.

"New houses won't be able to be built, new businesses won't be able to be built, and most importantly perhaps we won't be able to attract major industry because we won't be able to provide them the water and sewer they so critically need if they're going to be coming to Florence County, not just the city of Florence," Wukela explained.

The mayor said keeping and attracting industry is one way the city can continue to stay financially secure and maintain budgets without drastic cuts.

City Council will have the first vote on the budget at the regularly scheduled council meeting in May.

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