Impact: Upstate county pushing conservative budget ordinance

Impact: Upstate county pushing conservative budget ordinance

Weeks after the Policy Council released its 2025 SC Sustainable Budget – a data-driven report aimed at reining in state government spending – an ambitious budget proposal was introduced to Upstate taxpayers. 

On Feb. 1, Oconee County Council Chairman Matthew Durham announced plans for a new ordinance, “The Oconee Conservative Budget: The Standard for Fiscal Accountability," which subsequently passed first reading on Feb. 6. The proposal, in line with SCPC’s sustainable budget model, would cap annual increases to the Oconee County general fund operating budget based on the rate of county population growth plus inflation. 

The ordinance would be the first of its kind in South Carolina.

While counties by law must limit their yearly millage increases based on population growth and inflation, there is currently no such limitation on their budgets. Oconee is breaking new ground with its proposal and setting a historic example for the state of South Carolina and other counties to follow. 

Durham’s press statement reads: 

“Since 2016, the growth of the county budget has surged by just over 45%, while the combined rate of inflation and actual growth in our community is just over 20%. This discrepancy means an average annual budget growth of 5.7%, compared to a 2.96% increase in inflation plus population growth. Such a disparity leads to a compounding effect, placing an ever-growing burden on our taxpayers. It’s clear that to ensure the long-term economic health and sustainability of Oconee County, we must take decisive action.” 

Through a two-thirds vote, the council could suspend the cap if necessary to address emergency circumstances, unforeseeable budgetary needs, resolve a deficiency from the prior fiscal year, and a few other limited exceptions. 

The Nerve interviewed Durham last summer after Oconee County passed a FY24 spending plan in line with sustainable budgeting. The county’s budget of $60.7 million not only stayed within the population and inflation threshold, but it was also nearly $231,000 less than its prior-year final amended budget.  

Earlier that year, Durham took an interest in the SCPC sustainable budget model and began researching the topic. He did not find anything comparable at the county or municipal level, he told The Nerve, and started working towards a sustainable budget for Oconee.  

We are thrilled to see Chairman Durham and his colleagues pioneer such a bold and prudent policy for Oconee taxpayers. We hope these efforts will inspire South Carolina legislators and other local leaders to pursue a similar commitment to fiscal accountability. After all, the sustainable budget is a flexible model that can be used at all levels of government.