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Budgets: County yields to technology in repeal of Swatzel Rule
It doesn’t rise to the level of Obamacare or the Hatch Act, but the Swatzel Rule has governed the way Georgetown County approves its budget since the start of the 21st century. It is now headed toward the same fate as the Volstead Act.
The ordinance proposed by former County Council Member Tom Swatzel and adopted in 2000 requires that copies of the final budget draft be placed in county library branches for 10 days before the council’s final approval. It limits any changes to the budget to “technical corrections” or amendments that result from public comment.
County Council gave the second of two readings this week to an ordinance that will repeal the rule. “There were some comments that the Swatzel Rule was outdated, and it is,” county attorney Wesley Bryant said.
The rule left the county in a bind this year as it prepared to pass its budget. The state legislature hadn’t passed a budget and there was a $100,000 difference between what the county would receive in the House and Senate versions. The notice period forced the council to lock in a number that it knew could change.
Council Chairman Johnny Morant pointed out the Swatzel Rule had never been used and suggested the staff consider its repeal.
County Administrator Sel Hemingway served on the council when the rule was adopted. “I’ve always viewed this as a safeguard,” he said during this year’s budget discussions. It prevents the council from making a last-minute change to the budget without public input. He agreed with Morant that the issue hasn’t come up.
“I believe the rule served county taxpayers well through the years,” Swatzel said this week. But he acknowledged that the county is making better use of the internet to make financial information available to taxpayers.
Although there is no need for the 10-day review period, Swatzel did think the provision for limiting changes remains valid.
“That is not addressed anywhere in state code,” Bryant said, adding that it is up to the council to ensure something doesn’t get added to the budget at the last minute without notice to the public.
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