Mayor Joe Riley announced a few weeks ago that there would be no tax increase for Charleston County taxpayers, but City Council didn't get the details on the budget until last week. Riley notes it's been the hardest budget for quite some time, but no tax increase doesn't mean that the city isn't adding services or increasing paychecks.
The city will be adding nine police officers, two civilian statisticians, and one technology manager to support public safety. There will be two new environmental trash crews and additional staff for recreation and planning.
New federal requirements in regards to retiree health care provided a dark cloud over the budget process during the early months, Riley says.
"We were looking at a substantial tax increase," he says. The city worked around those concerns by putting retirees on Medicare with the city providing supplemental coverage when necessary. The solution increased the city's cost by $1.8 million, but that's manageable considering the alternative, Riley says.
The budget also includes a 4.2 percent cost of living adjustment for all city employees, more than any adjustment in at least a decade, as well as targeted salary adjustments for garbage collectors, custodians, court docket clerks, police file clerks, and fire captains. The former hike was based on the average southern consumer price index and the latter came from an internal compensation analysis.
City Council member Wendall Gilliard says he wants to see the city implement a longevity program in 2008 that rewards employees for their years with the city through periodic salary increases.
"It gives people an incentive to stay within the city," he says. —Greg Hambrick
Volvo is scouring the country in search of local heroes, with one candidate from Charleston. The search includes five candidates from each state. An online poll will narrow the field to three, who will then be judged by a panel of philanthropists, volunteers, and celebrities. The statewide winner receives $50,000 for their charity and an opportunity to compete for the national prize of $1 million in charitable contributions and a Volvo for life. The local candidate is Anne Lee, creator of Darkness to Light, a nonprofit that educates people about recognizing, preventing, and recovering from child sexual abuse. People can vote for their favorites at www.volvoforlife.com through Feb. 4. So anyone with a little goodwill after the party of the year in Marion Square should hit the site and vote.
In other philanthropic news, local teen Kayla King, along with 90 other young people from across the country, will be heading to El Salvador to hand out presents wrapped in Christmas shoeboxes to children. King, 17, has volunteered locally for five years with Operation Christmas Child. A program of the nonprofit Samaritan's Purse, Operation Christmas Child encourages communities to collect gifts in shoeboxes for children in impoverished communities. For more information on the program, visit www.samaritanspurse.org. — GH