On Tuesday, May 21, Sumter County Council held a budget workshop to review Fiscal Year 2019-20 revenues and expenditures projections and two personnel requests.
Solicitor Ernest Finney informed council that when compared to other similar circuits, the Third Circuit is seriously understaffed in support personnel. He's seeking 10 full-time employees (FTE) for the circuit's four counties. The Sumter office needs four FTE positions immediately, which cost $280,000. This will allow lawyers more time in getting cases to court and reduce suspects' time in confinement.
Ms. Valerie Brunson, recently recognized as the Most Outstanding Veterans Affairs Officer in South Carolina, informed council of the need for one additional FTE costing $40,000. Presently, there is the VAO and a benefits counselor managing 16,208 active veteran accounts with 13,021 receiving VA benefits. In 2018, the total awarded compensations were over $156 million. There were 4,271 office visits and 1,979 claims filed. However, service to over 3,000 veterans is lacking due to limited staff. Ms. Brunson is willing to accept a part-time position.
South Carolina is home to eight major military installations with more than 417,000 (one of every 10 adults) military veterans (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs).
On April 30, Gov. Henry McMaster signed legislation to create the South Carolina Department of Veterans Affairs. McMaster said, "It's important that our veterans, through a cabinet agency, have the status, attention and focus they have earned through their service to our state and our country."
Near the end of the workshop, after Solicitor Finney and VAO Brunson departed, Councilman Jimmy Byrd made a motion to deny all requests for new positions. His motion immediately followed comments by Councilman Artie Baker that the new positions will cost more for businesses than homeowners. Baker seconded the motion. Voting in favor of the motion was Byrd, Baker, Charles Edens and Chris Sumpter. Voting in opposition was Eugene Baten, James McCain and Vivian Fleming-McGhaney.
As the only veteran on Sumter County Council, I consider this action a slap in my face and to every veteran in Sumter County.
Every day in America, 24 veterans commit suicide.
EUGENE R. BATEN
Chief, USAF retired
Sumter County Council
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