Thursday, June 27, 2013
Funding to re-open a Goose Creek satellite office for Berkeley County government will likely be included in the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget.
The new location is apparently a go, despite a less-than-enthusiastic response from county officials who contend that closing the office two years ago saved money.
The Goose Creek satellite office opened in 2006 to offer services for the auditor and the treasurer. The office was closed in 2011; the county stated it would save an estimated $56,500 by relocating the office back to Moncks Corner.
County auditor Janet Jurasko addressed the issue during county council’s budget workshop on June 10.
“I wanted it to work when it first opened,” Jurasko told council members. “Once we opened the office I realized we weren’t providing the service. When you came to my office, nine times out of 10 in real estate we either have to send you to the assessor’s office (in Moncks Corner) or the Department of Revenue in Columbia. People were getting upset because they were having to come anyway to Moncks Corner because we weren’t providing the services.”
Jurasko said approximately 50 percent of the people who visited the Goose Creek office couldn’t complete the business they came there to do and had to come to Moncks Corner.
“The same people waited until the last minute to pay their bills,” she said of the tax bills that are mailed out eight weeks in advance. “There is so much you can do but people just wait until the last minute. You can’t change people.
“Whatever county council passes to do I will do it because that’s my job. But there are a lot of things we need to sit down and try to look at to try and improve the service down there because it’s basically stop there, view your bill, and pay your taxes, but you have to come to Moncks Corner anyway.”
Finance Committee Chairman and Councilman Tim Callanan disagreed with Jurasko’s assessment. He said that a Goose Creek satellite office will save a lot of people a lot of money.
“It’s a convenience to have the office there, but it’s also providing a service to save the taxpayers money,” said Callanan. “If we can open the office and make it better than it was before, I’m all for it.”
Callanan said the savings to residents outweighs the cost of running the office.
“Government is about providing services in a way so that they are convenient to the populace and that’s what opening this center is,” he said, “Whatever provides the best service to constituents.”
Factoring the car miles saved making a 28-mile round trip to Moncks Corner from the lower part of the county, the savings to 30,000 residents would total approximately $462,000.
“This is not a cost center,” Callanan said. “This is a convenience center. It’s convenient for people out here in Moncks Corner to come here but for people of Goose Creek, Daniel Island and Hanahan it’s a 30-mile trip.”
Council member Jack Schurlknight expressed concerns about residents of northern Berkeley County, who would be forced to drive the extra distance into Goose Creek.
“The northern part of Berkeley County may not be as densely populated, but it’s still a part of Berkeley County,” he said.
Schurlknight added that with the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office asking for funding to add 14 corrections officers to ease crowding at the Hill-Finklea Detention Center, he can’t see putting convenience above public safety.
“We need to educate the public to go online,” he said. “We’ve got to utilize the technology. The answer is simple and right in front of us. (Moncks Corner) is the county seat.”
Today, approximately 30 percent of county residents pay their tax bills online as opposed to when the Goose Creek office opened in 2007, when no one paid their bills online, officials said.
Callanan said it’s about preparing for the anticipated growth coming to Berkeley County.
“This county is going to grow,” he said. “I can guarantee you it is going to grow exponentially. It’s going to grow faster probably as a percentage wise than Charleston or Dorchester.
“So therefore at some point, there’s going to need to be a satellite office to provide these services whether the Internet exists or not. Denying that, I think, is foolhardy.
“We need to look at this and say, if we open this office, are we providing a service that’s valuable to people and are we saving people money? That’s it.”
Council member Ken Gunn, who made reopening the Goose Creek office part of his campaign for the District 3 county council seat, said it’s about serving the most people.
“It makes sense to put an office where the majority of the people live and that’s in and around Goose Creek,” he said.