Loris budget plan generous to some

By DEUCE NIVEN

tribdeuce@tabor-loris.com

     Generous salary increases for select City of Loris employees are included in a proposed budget for the year that begins July 1 that has been in the hands of City Council for two weeks.

     A public hearing on the proposed $5.095 million spending plan is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Loris Public Safety Building, ahead of council’s regular monthly meeting starting at 7 p.m.

     Final adoption of the budget requires a second reading that must, by law, take place no later than June. 30.

     A property tax rate of 118.45 mills is unchanged from the current year in the budget proposal.

     Salaries for many city employees are also unchanged, including uniformed police officers, with funding cut for fire department salaries in the budget proposal.

     Salary hikes for select employees range from more than 8 percent to 38 percent for a contracted employee under the plan.

     City Administrator Damon Kempski’s annual salary would rise more than 9.8 percent under the budget proposal, from $66,457 to $73,008. City Clerk/Treasurer Kenya Wright’s yearly pay is marked for a nine percent increase, from $45,780 to $49,920 under the proposal.

     Substantially higher increases are earmarked for Code Enforcement Officer Brandon Harrelson, up 17.8 percent from $45,906 to $54,080; and a contracted employee in the water department due a 38 percent pay hike, from $14,400 to $20,000.

Public record

     Despite repeated pleas and a formal written Freedom of Information Act request to City Hall for the budget proposal presented to council two weeks ago, a significantly redacted version was finally provided to this newspaper at about 3 p.m. Tuesday.

     One councilman, Mike Suggs, was willing last week to provide a copy of the budget proposal. He redacted employee names from the 57 page document, but otherwise left it intact.

     The copy provided by City Hall Tuesday contained 32 pages, with 25 pages removed from the document in the hands of council for two weeks.

     “It’s a public record,” Suggs said of the document. “Some of the employee names with specific salaries may not be, that’s why I marked them out.”

     Suggs said some of the proposed salary increases concerned him, as a steward of public funds.

     “This is not our money,” Suggs said. “It’s the taxpayer’s money, and we have a responsibility to spend it wisely.”

     Some salary increases may be justified, Suggs said. That could include the 17.8 percent increase proposed for Harrelson, who has also been charged with the duties of the town’s Public Works Director with no increase in pay.

     “If there’s a justified reason for an increase, we should be able to say what that is,” Suggs said.

     Proposed pay hikes are merit based, Kempski said in a written response to our questions on salaries.

     “There are employees of the city of Loris who may receive a raise based on merit from the entry level to the administrative level,” Kempski said. “They are based on their value to the city of Loris and its citizens of Loris.

     “There has to be a minimum of six days between readings of the budget. This is the time to bring it up publicly anyone who wants to address City Council with their concerns.”

     For much more on this story, including salary winners and losers in the budget proposal; and for analysis on the city’s new garbage contract that’s going to be costly for taxpayers, see today’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.