Calhoun County Council unanimously approved a $16.3 million budget last week that includes a tax increase.

The budget will increase the county’s millage rate by 3.36 mills to 118.36 mills.

The millage increase will mean a $33 annual tax increase on a $100,000 home in the county, Calhoun County Administrator John McLauchlin said.

The 118.36 mills are expected to bring $7.6 million in property taxes to the county. The budget is balanced by carry over funds and other county and state revenue, according to county officials.

Council approved the county’s seven separate budget ordinances last week for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In related matters, the county received a clean opinion for its 2020-2021 finances.

“That is the best you can do,” Mauldin and Jenkins Senior Manager Brian Nicholson said.

The county ended with a total fund balance for the fiscal year of $5,257,868, which was an increase from the previous year of $13,462.

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“I believe that is the first increase in the last three years in the general fund balance,” Nicholson said. “That is really good for the county.”

Total revenues for the county’s general fund for the 2020-2021 fiscal year were $13.2 million and expenses were $12.9 million.

Nicholson said the county did have a material weakness having to do with cash that required an adjustment to correct.

“Cash is a sensitive issue,” Nicholson said. “We consider that to be a material weakness.”

A significant deficiency was also found. Nicholson said a significant deficiency is not as severe as a material weakness.

“This relates to segregation in duties mainly for elected officials, magistrate courts,” Nicholson said. “There is a lot of cash coming in and out of those elected officials and there just needs to be some sort of controls in place to where not one person is opening up the checks and making deposits. Just a checks and balances.”

This finding is a repeat from the previous year’s audit, Nicholson said.

Councilman Ken Westbury asked Nicholson to explain the repeat finding.

“Do you not find that a lot in smaller organizations?” Westbury said.

“It varies,” Nicholson said, noting that elected officials are responsible themselves to implement controls. “We find it in a lot of other counties. Unless they are corrected by themselves (the elected official), there probably would be repeat findings every year unless that is addressed.”

Nicholson said the county is encouraged to put in place stronger controls as it relates to cybersecurity and to do a better job of accounting for capital leases.

In other matters, Lower Savannah Council of Governments Executive Director Dr. William Molnar encouraged the county to make sure it gets its fair share of the approximately $900 million in American Rescue Plan Act money that will be distributed through the S.C. Department of Commerce’s Rural Infrastructure Authority.

The money will be distributed across the state and can be spent on sewer, water, broadband and stormwater projects, Molnar said.

He encouraged the county to be proactive in applying for money.

“This is real important stuff,” Molnar said. “This is once-in-a-lifetime money. The reality is this is the kind of stuff that is community changing.”

The deadline to apply for the money is Sept. 12.

“Do your preliminary engineering as a basic minimum. Understand what you are looking for, what you are looking to expand, what the actual cost is going to be,” Molnar said.

In other business:

• Council gave unanimous first reading to a resolution entering into an incentive agreement with an existing industry in the county. The industry plans to invest additional dollars at its plant

Council later unanimously gave first reading by title only to a fee-in-lieu of taxes incentive for Project Augusta. The name of the company and extent of the investment was not provided on first reading. County officials promised more details would be provided on second reading.

• Council unanimously passed a resolution agreeing to proceed with plans to participate in the state insurance benefits program.

The new program will become effective Jan. 1, 2023.

County officials say going with the state plan will save the county about $300,000 next year.

Council had previously tabled a resolution to participate in the state insurance benefits program in order to be able to present the matter to county employees.

The county has used a private provider for the last 11 years.

• Council passed a resolution to enter into a joint county industrial park agreement with Lexington County.

The joint county industrial park agreement is a tax incentive mechanism and not a physical park. Under the agreement, Calhoun County will receive 1% of the revenues generated by the company, which is located in Lexington County.

• Council gave unanimous first reading to an ordinance adopting amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance.

The main change creates a table of all the permitted and nonpermitted uses in the county.

“No new information,” Calhoun County Deputy Administrator and Building Official Richard Hall said. “No changes to what was permitted and not permitted.”

An amendment would also include a mobile home ordinance in the county’s overall zoning ordinance. A parking table was also added regarding parking requirements.

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