Local officials grateful for veto override that will provide additional ice storm cleanup funds 1

A tree was uprooted in front of the New Moon Cafe on Laurens Street during an ice storm in February 2014.

As a result of action taken by the South Carolina Legislature on Wednesday, additional money will be flowing into Aiken County to help pay for damage from a devastating ice storm in 2014.

The funds should cover the remaining cleanup costs for Aiken County Government, the City of Aiken and the City of North Augusta.

Meeting in a special session, both the House and the Senate voted in Columbia to override Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of a proviso. Those decisions restored millions of dollars for disaster relief in more than 20 counties to the state’s fiscal year 2018-2019 budget.

“It was very good news, and we are grateful,” said Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker on Thursday.

More than $4.1 million is expected to be available for distribution in Aiken County, which has received previous ice storm compensation from state and federal sources.

Responding to a request from the Aiken Standard for information this past summer, local officials reported the yet-to-be-covered expenses were $3,755,456 for Aiken County Government, $242,690 for the City of Aiken and $65,508 for the City of North Augusta.

When Aiken County Council finalized the county’s budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 in late June, it assumed Aiken County Government would be getting at least $3.5 million in revenue from an additional ice storm-related reimbursement from the state.

“It was somewhat of a calculated risk, but one that we thought there was little downside to at the time,” Bunker said.

Then, in July, McMaster vetoed the state budget proviso that provided the extra ice storm funds.

“It wasn’t one of those things where we were losing sleep at night worrying about it,” Bunker said. “We knew our legislative delegation was fighting for it, and we also knew from historical experience that the governor’s vetoes of the budget frequently are overridden. But you’re always concerned because you never know what is going to happen in the Statehouse.”

Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian also expressed his gratitude.

“I appreciate our legislative delegation, particularly Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, working so very hard on this,” Killian said. “It means everything to this year’s budget, I can tell you that. I think it was only fair that they (South Carolina officials) treated us the same way that they treated the rest of the state after other disasters” by providing full reimbursements for amounts not covered by federal compensation.

Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh was another thankful local official.

“We are very pleased that the legislature has overridden the governor’s veto,” he said. “We did not budget it (the additional reimbursement) as anticipated revenue for this year, so it will be deposited into our general fund, which is where the money was expended from after the ice storm.”

North Augusta City Manager Todd Glover also was happy.

“It is good news that the state is repaying us for costs incurred during the storm,” he wrote in an email to the Aiken Standard. “We did not include the money in our budget (for 2018). When the storm occurred, it was an unexpected expense, so this is not found money. We will put it back into the capital projects fund, which is where our fund balance goes for future projects.”

The total ice storm cleanup costs were $33,703,906 for Aiken County Government, $2,273,786 for the City of Aiken and $708,030 for the City of North Augusta.

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