Aiken County’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 calls for a 3% pay raise for all county employees.

County Council Chairman Gary Bunker believes some workers should receive even more.

He told the Aiken Standard recently he would like to provide sheriff’s office, detention center and emergency medical services employees with a 5% increase “given that these are public safety areas and we are still experiencing vacancies there. We are running some of the numbers now to see what that would look like.”

County Administrator Clay Killian presented a budget draft to County Council on May 5 that he and his staff had prepared.

For the General Fund, which provides money for the county’s day-to-day operating expenses, Killian recommended a figure of $71,654,366 for both revenues and expenditures.

To help balance the budget, which is required by law, Killian proposed using $1,438,168 from the General Fund’s reserves along with $571,000 from the Mattie C. Hall Fund and $500,000 in a management reserve account.

In addition to a 3% across-the-board raise for county employees, the draft included the addition of several new staff positions

There was no recommended increase in property taxes.

Since hearing Killian’s suggestions, County Council has held a series of three budget work sessions.

“We have reviewed the proposed budget submitted by the County Administrator, and we have looked at the General Fund revenues and expenditures (for fiscal year 2019-2021) along with the other funds that also are quite significant,” Bunker said.

County Council passed the first reading of the ordinance that would authorize the establishment of the 2020-2021 budget May 5.

“We are expecting to have the second reading and a public hearing at our (County Council’s) meeting on June 2,” Bunker said. “We may have another budget work session on June 2 (after County Council meets at 7 p.m. at the Aiken County Government Center), but I’m not planning a work session for June 9 because that is the day of the South Carolina primary (election) and a lot of our folks will be involved with events circulating around the primary that evening.”

The third and final reading of the ordinance is scheduled for June 16.

The 2020-2021 fiscal year will begin July 1.

In addition to giving sheriff’s office, detention center and EMS workers a 5% pay raise, which would increase expenditures, Bunker wants to reduce the amount of money from reserves that Killian recommended using to help balance the General Fund’s budget.

The County Council chairman did not say what adjustments he thinks could be made to accomplish those goals.

The next step is to see what other changes will be suggested by Bunker’s fellow County Council members, elected officials and department heads.

“Certainly there are always folks who would like us to add funding to different things,” Bunker said. “But I think our ability to do that is somewhat limited by the fact there is a very substantial amount of carry forward fund balance (reserves) that is already contained in the budget on the revenue side.”

Bunker is hoping to receive an updated financial report for the 2020-2021 fiscal year next week that includes figures from this past March from Assistant County Administrator Lynn Strom.

She also is the county’s chief financial officer.

Bunker is eager to see the numbers because they will give County Council some idea of how the novel coronavirus pandemic has been affecting the county’s revenues.

“March will take us right to the cusp of the pandemic,” Bunker said. “I would feel better about having April in there, too, but we’re not getting an indication that it (the pandemic) is going to be, in any sense, devastating to our current fiscal year. Anecdotally, for example, we’re getting the indication from the Planning and Development Department that permits and fees are still going strong, that construction is still taking place across the county. We’re not seeing yet anything that indicates a major drop-off in revenue.”

​Dede Biles is the Aiken County government, business and horse industry reporter for the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @DBethBiles.