Bamberg County Council updates and activities

Chris Wilson, Chairman Bamberg County Council

I write again to update Bamberg County citizens on the issues we all face and the actions and plans of the Bamberg County Council. I continue to encourage citizens to remain active and involved in your County government. The more knowledge that you have about your County government, the more you will understand, or better yet, contribute to its proper functioning.

A number of citizens have written editorials lately in the local paper. I applaud people caring enough to express their thoughts and opinions. Writing an editorial is a great way to express opinions and thoughts, and sometimes, even inform people about the issues. But nothing replaces being actively involved in your County government by attending meetings, communicating with Council members, or serving on boards or committees.

Nothing is more divisive and unproductive than those who complain but do not understand or participate. Having different opinions and ideas can be productive, but complaining from afar generally is not. There is no better time than now to get involved.

County Council has made some necessary changes to the current fiscal year County finances. We have implemented some mid-year budget expenditure cuts in the current budget year (July 2011 – June 2012). This is due to the realization in December 2011 that our expenditures were exceeding our revenues and could not continue. We are also preparing the July 2012 – June 2013 budget, which at present draft, is significantly less (about $500,000 less) than the current year’s budget.

We had initially thought we may have to reduce services, but we have been able to make these current fiscal year changes without reducing or negatively impacting services. It seems we can do so in next year’s budget also. Our county government operates very efficiently, mostly due to the dedication and hard work of our employees. Like any operation, not everything runs perfectly, and there are areas where we can “tighten our belts” and make changes, but all in all, our employees provide services to the citizens of Bamberg County in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

We have taken steps to create a regional healthcare system with Barnwell County. This will ensure quality, stable healthcare for our citizens without a continuing tax burden on our citizens. The hospital issue has dominated the County over the past several years. Bamberg County Council and the Hospital Board have had to make very difficult decisions while being faced with the facts that the County Hospital could not survive financially without County support and the County could not continue to support the Hospital financially.

I hear a lot of citizens who are extremely upset about the hospital closure, and the Hospital closure is a sad event for the County, but the continuation of operations of the Bamberg County Hospital were not a financial reality. The sale of the Hospital to Dobbs represents the best opportunity to provide long-term, quality healthcare services in Bamberg County without a tax burden to the citizens. The sale of the Hospital to Dobbs Equity should close in the next few weeks and result in a new hospital built near Denmark and multi-specialty clinics in Bamberg and Barnwell. While there are no perfect solutions and no absolute guarantees of what the future holds, we have made contractual arrangements that should protect the healthcare of our citizens in the future.

We should all support the new hospital and health care system that Dobbs is creating. Dobbs is a reputable company committed to providing a high quality of healthcare and expanding available services. Their success will be our success, and will depend on our support.

County Council continues to work with several other companies looking to locate or expand in Bamberg County. These investments are vital to our having jobs for our citizens, an attractive community, an expanded tax base, and overall stability in our County. We can all agree that a vibrant local economy, with jobs and opportunities for our citizens, will greatly enhance our County’s attractiveness while helping grow our tax base, thus relieving some of the burden on the existing taxpayers. The challenge is to attract these companies considering some of our limitations. But we continue to work hard to make this County attractive for investment and growth. We have some catching up to do as far as infrastructure, workforce development, and other areas important to economic development. But we are making progress.

One of those areas is water and sewer infrastructure. We continue to pursue a countywide regional water/sewer system. A county-wide water/sewer system will allow for better water for our citizens, better fire service, and the ability to attract additional investment to our County. There are details to be worked out and concerns to be addressed, but this project will greatly enhance Bamberg County, and the municipalities, in their abilities to service citizens and attract investment.

Finally, County Council has decided to put a referendum on the November 2012 ballot for the citizens of Bamberg County to vote on a Capital Sales Tax, commonly called a Penny Sales Tax. No one likes to pay more taxes – of any kind. And, despite the opinions of some, County Council does not like to raise taxes. However, a capital sales tax provides a great opportunity and manner for raising the type of money that it takes to address some of the capital needs in the County. We have building and infrastructure needs - capital needs - that can probably only be addressed with a capital sales tax. Monies from the Capital Sales Tax Project, which can be in effect for no more than 8 years, cannot be used for operating costs – only for the costs of capital projects. After 8 years, the Capital Sales Tax would expire unless renewed by referendum vote of the citizens.

The County Council has appointed a committee of citizens from throughout the County. This Committee will consider project applications, the amount of revenues that can be raised (which approximates $4 million), and the method of using revenues to fund approved projects. The Committee’s recommendations will be put before Council for approval, and then on the November 2012 ballot for the citizens to consider. The referendum will list the projects that are being considered for funding by the Capital Sales Tax Project so that citizens will see exactly what their vote means.

Ultimately, the citizens will have to decide whether they want to enact the Capital Sales Tax. I hope that the citizens of Bamberg County will keep an open mind and take into account some of the considerations below when deciding whether to approve the Capital Sales Tax. Along with other important considerations, take into account that we already pay a penny sales tax in some of our neighboring counties and fund their capital projects when we shop there, the need for our capital projects that are proposed, and the reality that the funding for those projects may have to come from somewhere if not the capital sales tax – i.e. property tax increases or county bonds.

Please do not hesitate to contact any of the Council members if you have questions, ideas or concerns. Thanks, and let’s all work together to make Bamberg County a better place. It will take all of our combined efforts.