City of Charleston working to balance 2021 budget with $18M deficit

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The City of Charleston is $18 million short for their 2021 budget. City leaders say they are hoping to receive aid from Washington, but need to find a way to balance the budget in the meantime.

As of now, cities and counties with less than 500,000 people do not qualify for COVID-19 relief from the Federal Government. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg says he is hopeful that will change.

“President Elect Joe Biden this week emphasized the need of providing more help to state and local governments facing a budget crunch as a result of the pandemic,” he says.

President Elect Biden spoke on Monday about his goal to pass a COVID-19 relief package similar to the HEROES Act.

“There’s a reason why the federal government is able to run a deficit, because the states must, must balance their budgets, and they’re in real trouble. You’re going to see hundreds of thousands of police officers, firefighters, first responders, mental health clinics – you’re going to see them going out of business,” says Biden.

Right now, City Council is deliberating over a ’50/50 plan’ that would address the $18 million deficit. $9 million would be generated from job cuts and the other $9 million would be from tax revenue.

The city says the plan would be used to avoid defunding critical services such as police, fire and sanitation. The tax revenues would be “a combination of three property mills and a 50% reduction in the Local Option Sales Tax credit, would amount to one dollar and fifty cents a week on an average $300,000 home.”

Some city leaders say the choices aren’t exactly ideal.

“We really need to take a look at what can we cut back on for a year or two so we don’t kick people when they’re down. And to me, coming and telling someone ‘we’re increasing your taxes’ in the midst of all this is adding salt to the wound,” says councilmember Marie Delcioppo.

During a meeting on Wednesday, Mayor Tecklenburg reiterated to the council that the city’s budget offcials have already exhausted other means of generating revenue. He beleives this plan isn’t “perfect,” but is the best they can put forth right now.

“We gotta make it work. We gotta balance the budget. Regardless of what might happen next year we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get there,” he says.

Council decided to table the discussion until next week. They plan to meet before bringing the 50/50 plan to full council for 1st reading on December 1.

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