By Paul Gable
A lawsuit filed by Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones against Horry County Government earlier this week raises questions about the county budget and the process used to establish it.
In her complaint, Jones claims the county government is not meeting its constitutional responsibility to adequately fund and staff her department.
As a result, Jones says her department is short of personnel necessitating closing of satellite offices for periods of time during the workday, thereby inhibiting the amount and timeliness of service provided by the department to the public.
Jones was elected to office in November 2016, but was not sworn in until the beginning of the current fiscal year on July 1, 2017, in accordance with state law.
During the interim period between election and swearing in, Jones says she was not allowed by county council to take part in the budget process for the current fiscal year, even though she knew additional personnel were needed in the department.
During an interview on “Talking Politics”, a television show co-hosted by John Bonsignor and this writer, Jones said she approached the county administration committee to request funds to hire another administrative assistant to help alleviate the shortages in satellite offices.
“Like I said in the admin, I have other needs as far as staffing, but I was willing to settle with just one admin assistant for right now because of the budget issues and I had no input in the budget whatsoever, so I was willing to do that. I really need two admins and a number two in delinquent. So we have some needs I was willing to wait on,” Jones said during the television interview.
The administration committee turned down Jones’ request for the one admin assistant immediately. Jones estimated an additional $100,000 would cover the cost of hiring all three positions mentioned above.
According to Jones, her department raises approximately $400,000 per year in fees associated with pursuing payment of delinquent taxes alone. Just 25% of this amount would cover the three positions Jones said she needs.
Therefore funding for these positions would be more than covered by fees generated by the Treasurer’s Department. Instead, Jones said the county uses these fees as part of the revenue included in the county’s general fund budget.
Jones said Home Rule provisions of state law provide, “The Treasurer has the sole authority to determine the number of employees needed (in the Treasurer’s Department) and their duties.” It would appear Horry County Council and staff chose to ignore these provisions.
Bonsignor was incredulous, “Don’t you see the irony here of here is an elected official that has the most important department in the county. She collects the taxes so that we (county government) can pay our bills and they (county council) are stymying her with respect to what she’s requesting in so far as personnel is concerned. She’s going to have to shut down satellite offices for lunch. Is that fair to the people who want to go to the Treasurer’s office during lunchtime and they see it closed?” Bonsignor questioned.
It would not be difficult to shift $100,000 in the county budget to cover Jones’ immediate departmental needs. For example, county council funds the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation with the sum of $1.6 million each year from general fund revenue.
To say that the MBREDC is less than mediocre at bringing new business to the county is a generous statement. Why not divert $100,000 from MBREDC to the Treasurer’s Office so the money is put to good use?
County council and staff should work with the treasurer to meet these immediate funding needs so that the department can provide the level of customer service citizens expect rather than wasting the money on expense account lunches of extremely dubious value for MBREDC.
Jones should not have had to resort to a lawsuit, which will potentially embarrass county officials.
Link to the Talking Politics show with Angie Jones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUWTA4KE-7A