If there is one time of year when you should attend a Mauldin City Council meeting, the May and June meetings are it. For most of us, more will happen that could affect you personally in the May and June Council meetings than in the whole rest of the year combined.
Beginning in December, the City’s Departments, the Accounting staff, and the City Administrator begin putting together their budget proposals for the Fiscal Year 2021 – July 1st, 2020, through June 30th, 2021. The assembled budget proposal reflects the current and expected needs for each Department over the next year, based on their status and current conditions.
Each February, Council members enumerate and prioritize their goals for the coming year. Those goals will to some degree reflect the opinions voiced by Mauldin residents to Council members. When developing the first Budget drafts, City Staff will take their direction from Council’s stated goals, while also calculating day-to-day operational requirements.
Starting in March, Council members begin holding budget workshops, reviewing the Budget proposal, and discussing each line of the budget: all the revenue sources and projected amounts, and all the anticipated expenses.
The City’s five major sources of revenue are (1) property taxes, (2) licenses, fees, and permits, (3) “Hospitality and Accommodations” taxes, (4) money provided by the State, via the “Local Government Fund”, and (5) intergovernmental grants. For Fiscal Year 2020, the total revenue was projected to be just over $21 million.
Expenses are broken down by Mauldin City Departments: Police; Judiciary; Fire; Business Development Services; Public Works; Finance; Parks and Recreation; Economic Planning and Development; Human Resources; Administration.
In the end, a balanced budget is the result. Expected revenue will cover expected expenses. State law requires all counties, cities, and towns to have a balanced budget, and to pass that budget prior to the next fiscal year.
The budget workshop meetings are open to the public, although they would never be described as exciting. Most of the budget is the same, year after year, with a level of growth corresponding to the City’s growth.
Ultimately, the budget must be approved by the City Council before July 1st, the beginning of the next Fiscal Year, again as required by State law. Because the City’s Budget is considered an ordinance, it must pass two separate votes, in two separate meetings of Council. If all goes well, the votes on the Budget this year will occur in the May Council meeting, on May 18th, and in the June Council meeting, on June 15th.
Cover of Mauldin’s Budget Book for the current Fiscal Year, passed by Council in May and June 2019
Changes to the Budget are possible at any time prior to the Budget’s passage in the second vote. It is not uncommon for one or two final small tweaks to be made just prior to the second vote.
Once the new budget is passed, it is published in the City’s Budget Book, which is available to everyone, by request.
This Year’s Special Considerations
The coronavirus will have a big effect on Mauldin’s Budget this year. Remember those five major revenue streams? For the most part, property taxes may be unaffected, but expect the revenue from the other four sources to be reduced quite a bit.
Business licenses and fees are based on level of income. Most businesses have seen a severe drop in sales; some, like restaurants, are at a complete standstill. With no income, licenses will be greatly reduced. Some businesses will go bankrupt, with a total loss of license revenue for the City.
Hospitality and Accommodations (“H&A”) taxes are paid by restaurants, motels, and other businesses that are largely dependent on visitors. COVID-19 has caused travel to be virtually halted; the loss of H&A revenue will be acutely felt by the City. H&A revenue is used to help attract visitors to Mauldin; without enough H&A revenue, Mauldin stagnates.
The Local Government Fund (“LGF”) is calculated as a percentage of the State’s budget. Just like for Mauldin, the State’s own revenue income will decline due to coronavirus, for the same reasons as for Mauldin. The percentage of the State’s budget which will be dedicated to the LGF will stay the same; but that percentage will be a smaller amount of money.
The City’s fifth source of revenue, grants, can also be expected to decline. Other governments will need to adapt to shrinking budgets by cutting expenses somewhere. Grants are less critical than other expenses.
Be Careful What You Ask For; You Have to Pay for It
What do Mauldin residents most frequently ask for, beyond what the City already provides? The top two on residents’ minds have to be (1) more sidewalks, and (2) better storm-water drainage. Either would be extremely expensive. The City could easily spend itself bankrupt in an all-out effort to fulfill either request.
Mauldin residents enjoy the lowest property taxes in Greenville County. Unlike its sister cities, there are few fees. The Sewer fee, for example, is by far the lowest in the County. Yet thanks to the improvements made to Mauldin’s sewers over the last few years, Mauldin’s sewers are in great shape. With ongoing maintenance at a cost of about $1 million per year, Mauldin’s sewers will stay in top shape for decades to come.
Mauldin’s Police Department and Fire Department are likewise the best around. Mauldin’s Police Department consistently wins the highest marks from CALEA, the national Law Enforcement accreditation organization.
Mauldin’s residents and businesses also enjoy good fire insurance rates, because the Mauldin Fire Department has earned the highest possible ISO rating.
Basic services in Mauldin are the best anywhere. Councils have been very prudent and careful, year after year, to put the City’s revenue to good use. It would be easy to throw money at a problem, by raising taxes. Visit Chicago, or any city in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, or California to see what kind of answer that is to curing a city’s problems. But historically, Mauldin City Councils have been as careful with their budgets as households in Mauldin must be.
The Budget and You
A great many people living in Mauldin will have to adapt to less income for 2020. A great many businesses will likewise have less income in 2020.
For the City to compensate for its own budgetary limitations this year, it would be a double-whammy to raise taxes. Residents and businesses alike are already feeling the economic pressures as a result of coronavirus. To increase taxes would hurt both, at a time when neither can afford it.
Are tax increases in the future – fiscal year 2021 – for Mauldin residents and businesses?
Barring complications, Mauldin’s City Council will meet at 7:00 p.m., on Monday, May 18th, and on Monday, June 15th, to vote for the new budget. The budget will first be formally presented on May 18th. That presentation will include a review of expenses, revenues, and other budgetary highlights. See what is planned for the new budget. Public Comment is a part of any Council meeting; the May meeting is your best opportunity to speak out about what you hear. How residents react can spur City Council to make last-minute changes before the June meeting.
The June meeting will include the final vote on the budget. The public comment period at the beginning of the June Council meeting will be your last chance to voice your concerns, if any.
City revenue is paid by City residents and businesses. City Council members are supposed to represent City residents and business owners. Council’s actions are more likely to reflect that fact when residents and business owners speak up.