BAMBERG – Bamberg County Council gave final, third-reading approval to the county’s $27.5 million spending plan for 2023-2024 during a special called meeting last month.

Council Chairman Dr. Jonathan Goodman II and members Spencer Donaldson, Evert Comer Jr. and Larry Haynes voted to approve the budget.

Council members Clint Carter, Phil Myers and Sharon Hammond opposed it.

“It’s difficult for me to understand this budget,” Hammond said.

She inquired, for example, about $4,500 set aside in the budget for information technology consultant services in both the emergency management and 911 departments.

County Administrator Joey Preston said he thought all of Hammond’s questions about the budget had been answered, but Hammond said she kept seeing the same questionable figures in the budget.

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“I’ve been asking this question each budget year,” Hammond said.

Goodman offered to set up a meeting with himself, Hammond and the administrator to address her concerns.

Hammond said, “The budget’s already passed.”

Preston later said that funds for IT consulting services have been budgeted in various departments.

“The county has been successful on many platforms, but one area we are especially good at is leveraging talent where it is needed and only paying for the services that we need. We have different consultants working for the county, all of which are necessary for the continued functioning of business,” the administrator said.

“Each year, we must comply with various Governmental Accounting Standards Board pronouncements, many that require us to hire specialized skill sets to comply with. We utilize professionals across many fields, such as actuaries, attorneys, accountants, engineers, etc.,” Preston said.

“If we were to try to hire all of these professionals as employees, it would cost more to do so even if we could because of the skyrocketing cost of providing retirement and health insurance benefits,” he said.

The budget, which totals $27,487,595, calls for a general fund of $10.4 million, along with separate accounts set up for special revenue, $6.8 million; enterprise, $1.5 million; debt service, $448,150, and capital projects, $8.4 million.

“Once again, county staff has delivered a balanced budget based on realistic revenue and expenditure expectations without a tax increase and despite record inflation over the past five years,” Preston said.

He continued, “This budget provides funding for the new animal control officer, which we hope to build upon in future years. Along those same lines, we were able to increase funding to Mary Ann Morris Animal Society by $8,000 to a total appropriation of $40,000.”

The budget requires no tax increase. Next year’s operating millage rate is estimated to remain the same at 242.4.

Under the current millage rate, County Controller Gina Smith has said owners of houses valued at $100,000 pay $842.90 annually in property tax bills.

The budget reflects a $2.5 million decrease from last year’s spending plan.

There is a 3% cost-of-living pay increase for employees. The average employee with family coverage also will not have to pay more in health insurance costs because council has not changed its directive to have the county absorb 100 percent of premium increases.

An additional mill – for a total of two mills – has also been added to the 2023-2024 budget for Denmark Technical College.

“In FY 24, they were again appropriated the value of one mill of $31,340, plus $25,000, for a total of $56,340,” Smith said. The funds can only be used for the physical plant and property.

New ambulance service

The county’s budget also reflects the selection of a new ambulance service. The service had previously been provided by Anderson-based Medshore Ambulance.

The county announced in a press release that Greenville-based Thorne Ambulance Service, or TAS, has been selected as the new provider.

The county is currently contracted with Medshore ambulance service and pays it $450,000 per year. The county’s contract with the company ends Sept. 3.

Preston said the county would have had to pay Medshore $768,000 annually if its services had been kept in the new budget year. Instead, a five-year contract was negotiated with TAS to extend through Sept. 3, 2028.

Under the new contract, the county will pay the following per year: $533,119 in year one; $549.112 in year two; $565,586 in year three; $583,553 in year four; and $600,030 in year five.

The administrator said the county saved more than $200,000 in the first year alone under the new contract.

Two advanced life support ambulances will be provided with an average response time of 14 minutes. One ambulance will be stationed in Bamberg and Denmark. Automatic vehicle locating, or AVL, systems will be used to ensure the closest unit responds to an emergency.

Two spare units will be used on an as-needed basis.

“We are paying for two units. We have the option to get a quick response vehicle within six months if we feel like we need one. Spare units replace one of the two units if they go down. So there will always be coverage. The spares are not sitting around in Bamberg County. They are brought in if needed,” Preston said.

TAS is a family-owned and operated business with eight locations throughout the state.

Ryan D. Thorne, TAS founder and chief executive officer, said the business provides, “quality-driven service and utilizes a patient-focused and goal-oriented approach to provide exceptional clinical care and customer service.”

Preston said, “After months of research, negotiations with eight mobile medical providers and collaborative discussions with Barnwell County, Bamberg County has concluded Thorne is the obvious choice to provide this essential service to our region. The icing on the cake is that there will be no EMS millage increase and, therefore, no tax increase as a result of this partnership.”

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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