Judge rules Dillon County’s original budget illegal; battle for cash continues

DILLON, SC (WBTW) – A trial over Dillon County’s budget wrapped up Friday. A judge ruled the original budget wasn’t legal, but the fight over school funding isn’t over.

The Dillon County treasurer filed a lawsuit because she questioned whether the county budget was legal. She also wanted to know whether the county could legally keep money that always went to schools.

Judge Michael Nettles ruled the original budget passed in June was invalid since the budget was changed from the second to third reading.

The county legally passed a supplemental or revised budget in August. Judge Nettles ordered the Dillon Treasurer Jamie Estes to follow the revised budget.

“Today brought finality to the questions that we’ve all had overtime,” says Estes.

The school board attorney Paul Porter argues the schools are entitled to about $319,000 each year to repay a $60 million bond.

“There was an existing agreement between the county and the board to split the proceeds,” claims Porter.

But the county attorney, Rob Tyson, argued the 1995 bond agreement taxpayers voted on does not require to give the school board money each year.

“We believe we are right on the law,” says Tyson. “The referendum didn’t bind us on how we use the dollars.”

Dillon County Administrator Rodney Berry explained to the judge why council decided to reduce, then remove, the money from the schools.

“We had to find the means to balance our budget,” said Berry.

Judge Nettles did not make a ruling on if the money should go to the school board or not. Instead, he asked both the school and county attorneys to create a proposal for how he should rule. The judge will also review all of the witness testimonies and the public hearing video.

“This is going to allow Dillon County, once we get the rulings, to move forward, heal and put Dillon County first,” predicts Estes.

Each attorney will have 10 days to create their proposal. The judge will then respond with a court order on whether the schools will or will not get the money.

Also, Northeastern Technical College reached an agreement with the county, which will also be included in the order.