Aiken City Council votes to spend budget surplus on police officer and firefighter raises

Sep. 12—The Aiken City Council spent more than $2.26 million Monday evening.

The Aiken City Council voted Monday evening to approve an ordinance allocating a general fund budget surplus and resolutions allocating additional hotel tax revenues and purchasing property for the Powderhouse Connector.

Budget Surplus

Council member Ed Girardeau made the motion to approve the budget amendment ordinance. Council member Lessie Price seconded his motion.

The council voted 6-0 to approve the ordinance.

Mayor Pro Tempore Ed Woltz recused himself from voting on and discussing the ordinance. His wife, Holly, is president of the Friends of Hopelands Gardens and the Rye Patch, and the ordinance added funding for two additional maintenance workers at Hopelands Gardens and the Rye Patch.

In June, city council approved a general fund budget of $33.56 million. Including an already approved budget amendment, the city's general fund budget increases to roughly $35.67 million.

The additional money will come from a budget surplus from the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said in a memorandum to city council that the city's tax revenues, business license revenues and interest revenues were higher than projected. He added expenses were lower because of equipment that had been ordered but not received and projects that have not been completed.

He said the higher revenues and lower expenses resulted in a surplus of $1.88 million in the city's general fund.

The ordinance approved Monday evening allocates money for raises in the Department of Public Safety. Those raises are 16 percent raises for dispatchers, 8 percent raises for police officers through the rank of lieutenant and 4 percent for captains and majors.

Aiken Department of Public Safety Director Charles Barranco said the raises would mean the city's officers would start at around $52,000 after completing training.

Council member Andrea Gregory moved to amend the ordinance to include 8 percent raises for driver-operators (fire truck drivers).

Council member Kay Brohl seconded her motion to amend.

The raises for driver-operators are expected to add an additional $64,000 to the city's general fund expenditures.

Barranco said the 23 driver-operators were paid around $32,000 per year before the raises.

The council approved the motion to amend by a vote of 6-0.

The ordinance included funding for two additional maintenance staff at Hopelands Gardens and Rye Patch.

The ordinance also allocated funding to upgrade the gym floor at Smith-Hazel Recreation Center.

Additional Hotel Tax Revenue

The council also voted unanimously to approve a separate resolution allocating an additional $129,000 in accommodations tax funds.

Assistant City Manager Mary Tilton — Bedenbaugh was not at the meeting — said the city received more revenue than expected and also had funds left from the previous year.

She said the city's accommodations tax committee met Sept. 6 and voted to allocate the money for tourism-related projects.

Tilton said the committee's recommendation included $100,000 to support a new trolley, $5,000 for inclined plane kiosks, $2,200 for guest sign-in kiosks at the train museum and the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, and $1,800 for a holiday promotional logo.

Powderhouse Connector Purchase

Girardeau also made the motion to approve the property purchase resolution. Council member Gail Diggs seconded his motion.

The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution.

Tilton said the memorandum of understanding called for the city to pay $187,500 for 18 acres of property.

She said the property would include one acre needed for the roadway and right of way and 17 acres for a retention pond to serve the area.

Tilton added property's owner, James Watson Jr., would donate 100 feet of the needed 120 feet of the roadway and right of way and the city would purchase the remaining 20 feet.

She said the memorandum called for road construction to begin by June 1, 2024. Tilton added any additional land needed for the roadway would be handled in a separate memorandum.

The funding for the purchase is from the city's part of a countywide 1 percent sales tax.