Horry County discusses $11m budget surplus

Horry County discusses $11m budget surplus

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - County leaders got down to business Friday at the Fall Budget Retreat, and discussed what to do with an expected $11.5 million in excess funds from this fiscal year.

The executive summary of the county's annual budget showed that Horry County spent about 7 percent less than they had projected, and took in 1.56 percent more revenue, equaling a total variance of $11,485,883 in savings. Last year, the county came in just $262,142 under budget.

However, this does not mean the council has millions of dollars laying around to use.

"We're using the money to fund the balance we had to fulfill our budget last year. As we move forward, we have an increase in expenditures," explained Chairman Mark Lazarus.

As Lazarus pointed out, the council is essentially trying to fill a seven million dollar hole in the 2014 budget while also keeping up with increasing costs. Because of that, the eleven million dollars really comes down to around two million dollars for the council to use as a sort of safety net for future funding needs.

In terms of revenue, the county's final budget for this fiscal year saw $1.9 million more than the preliminary budget expected. One area where the county received less than expected was in magistrate and court fees, a trend that has been happening over the last few years, according to Mark Lazarus.

On the expenditure side, the biggest cost in the budget was personnel, but salaries cost the county $1.5 million less than was expected, and county employee health insurance was over $1.1 million less than what was budgeted. The only expenditure that came in over budget was the county's retirement spending. In total, the county spent about $9.3 million less than they expected to.

County leaders noted that $11 million in savings is not free money to spend on new projects – but should be used to shore up other budget deficiencies.

One use for the money, in particular, is stabilization in the 2015 fiscal year. In the fall months, the county is not collecting enough money to fund its expenditures, explained Barry Spivey. The fund will help get the county through this period.

"We're unique in being a coastal community," said Chris Eldridge. Weather like this year's ice storm, or a major hurricane could run up initial costs for the county, and it may take some time for FEMA to reimburse these expenditures.

At this point, money from FEMA has not yet been received, so the county will add that money into next year's budget.

Spivey also pointed out to council that at this time the county is going through a reassessment. He anticipates this could lower the revenue for next year's budget. Another area seeing an increase is what Spivey explained as 'economic sensitive,' such as deeds and business licenses.

At the same time, there are reductions in master equity fees that the financial department did not anticipate during the projections for this year's budget. Spivey pointed out this includes the fact that foreclosure cases are declining, which is a good thing for the market.

In addition, he explained the county is receiving less fines from courts which is a trend his department has seen over the last few years. Moving forward, he plans to take that into account when forecasting the budget.

As the budget retreat continued, county leaders discussed changes to incorporate into next year's budget. One idea they have is to bring in strategic leaders from Rock Hill. As Chris Eldridge explained, the government there has been successful in turning things around and being innovative. The county hopes to bring the same business methods here to help grow the county and the budget.

One part of the program through Rock Hill involves a community-wide survey that the council hopes to distribute throughout the county to gauge a response from tax-payers.

Lazarus expressed it was time to stop being reactionary, and time to start having a plan.

"We have a road map for the future. Its going to change but it will be designed to change as the economy changes and other diversions come our way," said Lazarus.

 Another item that came up was the resurfacing of county roads. County leaders determined that a funding shortfall exists in the county's resurfacing program, given the speed at which the county's road network has expanded over last two decades.
"As development kicked off a few years ago, there were quite a few subdivisions. Those roads, once built to county standards, the county can take over the maintenance of those roads,” said Lisa Bourcier, the spokesperson for Horry County.

Right now, the county road network spans over fourteen hundred miles.

"We've been increasing our road network, but funding at the same level," explained Bourcier.

The longer it takes to fix the roads, the more expensive it becomes. At this time, the county budgets $2.6 million dollars to resurface county-maintained roads. They are now considering increasing that amount.
"Council needs to look at funding it at a higher level so it doesn't degrade to such a point we have to raise more money to fund that network,” said Bourcier.

Friday's budget retreat helped paint a clear picture for council as to where the budget stands and where it is going. Everything discussed will be looked into and brought back to the table at the next budget retreat in March.

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