Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) - The Town of Chapin’s regular town council meeting was held Tuesday night in the council chambers at the town hall. During the meeting, they gave second and final reading to their 2019 budget that totals $1,810,150 for the General Operating Budget expenses. The General Operating Budget is built around a projected decrease in business license revenue. This was done after actually experiencing this type of shortfall in 2018.
The 2019 budget includes a 1.379 mill property tax increase to take the town to 12.884 mills in total. The law allows the town to add the increase in the coming budget, plus a look back of 3 years. This small increase in millage would up the amount the town receives by about $15,000 every year Town property taxes would then be projected to bring in about $135,00 per year. This amount, shared by all residents of the town, is actually a very small per family tax increase. The last time the town’s millage was adjusted it went down. That was the year they ceased garbage collection as the task just got too large with the town’s growth.
Tuesday, the council also approved the utility department’s budget of $4,100,000 which is an increase from last year's budget for that department. It was $3,933,100 for 2018. The Utility Department is in the middle of constructing their new waste water treatment plant. Utilities Director Andy Metts had told the council that he was always very conservative in projecting the income from tap fees each year because they can fluctuate greatly based on the economy and other factors. If they sell more taps than he projected in the budget, that extra money can be put into reserve, used to pay bills, or even retire debt faster.
Some of the things that will cost Chapin more in 2019 are their share of group health insurance, a cost that seems to be continually increasing for everyone. That is expected to increase by about 4% this year. Retirement expense are also going up again by 5%, something that the town has no say so as they are covered by the SC State Employee’s Retirement System. The legislature set these increases in an attempt to make that system solvent after some bad investments a number of years ago. It will also increase a bit more in years to come because of the way the legislature solved the shortfall problem.
Because the cost of buying water from the City of Columbia is going up by almost $550,000 this year, Chapin residents will see their water bills go up too. That’s based on a 9.57% water rate increase from the city, Chapin’s water supplier, which again, the town has no control in this matter save to maintain their rates and begin losing money.
In other business, council gave final approval to amending the ordinance that regulates extending utilities to areas not already served. This has been discussed for months in work sessions and basically formalizes the policy on who pays to extend mostly sewer lines to new developments that want to connect to the town’s system. If the extensions and connection of a new project only benefits that project and development, the developer would bear 100% of the cost of the extension. If the town has the ability to benefit from the proposed extension to a new project, then the town will share the expenses. This is already taking place with one project called Palmetto Shores out Old Lexington Highway. Some of that construction's cost is being footed by the developer while another portion from Hilton back toward Chapin and down to the new plant is being paid for by the town. That agreement was officially formalized on Tuesday.
In general, there’s not much wiggle room in the town’s General Fund Budget. Most expenditure increases are out of the town’s hands and things they want, discretionary spending, is slim at best. There are a few “frilly” items in the budget like repairing and replacing Christmas lights, but that can easily be dropped if money gets tight or something happens. The town had wanted to add the School Resource Officers from the high school to their police department, a move away from the sheriff’s department, but Laura Culler told them after looking at the cost, they really couldn’t afford it. The entire council agreed that the budget was just too close to add a person you’d be obligated to keep on. In one of the work sessions prior to this month’s council meeting, one of the council’s members said, “If money gets tight, we can cut out a few new Christmas lights. We don’t want to scrape together every dime we have, hire an officer to go to the high school, and have a business fold or move out of town and hurt us in some unforeseen way. It just doesn’t make sense to make that commitment when we are so close to a balanced budget with little or no fat to trim.”
In one other piece of business, the town's leaders took the first steps to slow down the construction of multi-family housing until they can best decide where this type of construction should be built and what it should look like. Chapin, like every other community, has the need for all kinds of housing for all kinds of people. Not everyone can afford to be a home owner, and not everyone wants to be a home owner. Many like the convenience of living in a multi-family housing project where they can be very mobile if need be. The steps the town's leaders are taking just gives them some time to decide what these should look like and how that growth should be controlled. According to town leaders, the town's Planning & Zoning Director Nathan Powell, the Planning Commission, and the Architectural Review Board will all be participants in the process of guiding this growth plan. Look for more discussion and action on this for many more months to come.