County budget cut looms for 5th year in a row

DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCIV) --- As state leaders discuss the 2014-2015 state budget, local county leaders worry if another cut could be on the way.

The Local Government Fund is state-provided revenue of about $200 million split among county and municipal governments.

"It makes up over 10 percent of the county's budget," said Jason Ward, county administrator for Dorchester County.

Based on a statutory formula, Dorchester County alone is set to receive more than $7 million for fiscal year 2014-2015. However in 2009, state leaders began cutting the fund to make up for the recession.

If the same is applied to next year's budget, Dorchester County would only get about $5.1 million.

"Our major source of revenue for our general fund budget is property taxes and right behind that is the local government fund. It's a major amount of our budget at this point," said Ward.

More than 135,000 people now call Dorchester County home. That's one of the reasons why Ward says the cut would have a major impact on public services like the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office, EMS and 911 dispatchers.

"The numbers of calls that we are dispatching since our population has increased, has gone up significantly," said Ward. "We want to be able to go to a 12-hour shift versus a 24-48 shift, if they are being called out four or five times during the night making multiple transports to a hospital, it makes it makes it very difficult to be well rested and alert throughout their shift."

Ward says due to the lack of funding, county officials will not be able to hire more deputies or dispatchers - forcing the current staff to fill the void.

"It places a greater strain on them. It places a greater requirement for overtime whether that's in court security, patrol or emergency medical services. All of those are impacted by this," Ward said.

Meanwhile, Ward says county entities depend on mutual aid and volunteers for natural disaster response like the recent winter storm recovery.

Wards says the General Assembly will vote on next year's budget sometime in June. {}

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