Bamberg County Council update

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 have noticed a larger number of citizens who are involved and participate at meetings and in other ways in their government. That is encouraging and productive. Even though people may not always agree on the issues, when we can discuss and better understand each other’s thoughts and ideas, we usually make better decisions.

The County has begun its July 2012 – June 2013 budget year, which presents significantly less budget expenditures (about $500,000.00) without service cuts. It is an extremely tight budget that takes into account the delicate financial condition of the County and our realistic, anticipated revenues. We completed the 2011-2012 budget year, and after making some mid-year budget cuts, it appears from the unaudited numbers that we ended the year with less expenditures than revenues collected. However, we still operate in a very tough situation as the County does not have the financial reserves with which we have often operated in the past. These past few years have come with sizeable, unexpected expenditures related to, among other things, continuing to support operations at the hospital. In addition, the County has expended funds on other projects – like the regional water and sewer system – that we continue to pursue. We continue to carefully monitor our expenditures and revenues to determine if other adjustments need to be made.

The hospital issue has dominated the County over the past several years. It is extremely frustrating for the regional hospital deal, on which countless hours and many dollars have been spent, to have fallen apart as it did. However, with the lack of true commitment that it became evident that Dobbs/RHS had to provide comprehensive services in Bamberg County or possibly ever construct a new facility, Bamberg County may find better healthcare options elsewhere. Obviously, right now we have a lack of services with the closure of our hospital. But County Council and the Hospital Board continue to work with several other companies who are interested in providing healthcare services in Bamberg. As plans develop, we will inform citizens as much as possible. We realize the urgency of the situation and are acting as quickly as possible – but want to take the time necessary to make wise decisions. Our goal is to have emergent care in Bamberg County while expanding the ancillary, specialized services that are available here also. What is possible is still left to be seen. In the meantime, our EMS service is doing a great job of taking care of people. In any emergency, call 911 immediately.

Recently, one of the more hotly discussed issues concerns the Capital Sales Tax. There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding amongst people about the proposed sales tax. 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. However, the capital sales tax provides a good mechanism for raising money 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.

The list of 9 proposed capital projects has been approved by County Council and has been released. The Capital Sales Tax Project Committee and the County Council carefully considered projects throughout the County for funding and have chosen a list of worthwhile projects. The list is available to the public and will continue to be published and advertised. More information about the Capital Sales Tax will also be released and advertised so citizens can fully understand the issue before voting. But please ask questions or seek accurate information before forming your opinions.

Ultimately, the citizens will have to decide whether they want to enact the Capital Sales Tax. In November, each voting citizen will have to decide whether to vote for a penny sales tax to fund the complete list of projects or not. The law does not allow a vote for some projects and not others. Each citizen will have to make a choice about the list of projects as a whole.

Our citizens already pay a penny sales tax in some of our neighboring counties and fund their capital projects when we shop there. Persons who do not reside in Bamberg County who shop and spend money in Bamberg County will also pay the sales tax resulting in some “outside” revenue to help fund our projects. And the reality is that the Courthouse renovations – more than $3 million dollars - will have to be done at some time in the very near future. The Courthouse has security, space, technology, structural and other problems. The renovation plans include adding some much-needed judicial and/or administrative space and renovating the existing space – not to create some “Taj Mahal” facility - but to make it functional. If this is not done with a Capital Sales Tax, it may require property tax increases or additional county borrowing.

A lot of misinformation about the Capital Sales Tax concerns the Veterans Memorial Project. The Capital Sales Tax Project does not include funding the for Wellness Park that has been discussed by Council and opposed by many citizens. The Capital Sales Tax Project does include funding for a Veterans Memorial – something sorely needed by this County as we have no monument that recognizes the contributions of our veterans who have given all in service our Country. People who are opposed to the Capital Sales Tax have tried to link the sales tax to the Wellness Park to stir up opposition, but the sales tax is not designed to fund the proposed Wellness Park. And the Sales Tax Ordinance passed by Council gives Council some discretion in the implementation of the projects if changes need to be made.

We welcome the recent announcement by Tobul Accumulators of their expansion plans which comes with additional investment and jobs. Jim Tobul has been good for Bamberg County, and the County will continue to work with him and other business and industry to improve our area. We continue to work with others who are looking to locate jobs and investment here. Hopefully, more such good news can be announced soon.

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.