News Archive

(0106) Week of Jan 4, 2006

Williamston continues operations at 2005 budget
Williamston’s 2006 budget shows $350,000 increase
Enterprise fund budget is $1.4 million
FOI information request leads to surprise meeting
County accepts land in Clemson Research Park

 

Williamston continues operations at 2005 budget

By Stan Welch

A public hearing on the Town of Williamston’s 2006 budget grew loud and accusatory, as more than 75 citizens packed into the town hall’s courtroom to have their say about the proposed budget on December 27.

By the end of the evening, three hours later, Council had adopted only the portion of the proposed budget that set the millage for the coming year. The rest of the budget will be reconsidered following a special effort to insure that all public notice requirements for the public hearing have been met.

Whether anyone would have their say was the first question of the evening. Mayor Phillip Clardy explained that the public hearing does not take the form of a debate or a dialogue. “I hope that you won’t be disappointed by the fact that I will not entertain questions,” said Clardy. His hope went unanswered as several people objected to the announcement.

Town  Attorney Richard Thompson indicated his understanding that the Town’s policy for public hearings is to let each person speak for three minutes; a decided difference from procedure at County Council public hearings, where specific time limits are not imposed.

Turner then suggested setting a total time for the hearing and dividing that time by the number of people signed up to speak. Upon learning that only six people had signed up, Councilman Cothran suggested that each be allowed all the time they wanted.

Williamston resident Judy Ellison spoke in opposition to the proposed budget, which, as presented, would include a garbage pickup fee of $8.50 per month per household. Ellison said that amounted to an increase of 18.9% on her monthly water bill. She said the town needed to cut expenses, saying that the town hall was beautiful but questioning the money spent to make it so.

Marion Middleton Jr., son of former Williamston Mayor Marion Middleton, who was defeated by Clardy in the 2000 mayoral election, also spoke, saying that the interest rate on the $350,000 BAN note is 5.65% according to the Town’s audit. “Hearing that you Councilmen didn’t know the interest rate, and the Mayor couldn’t come up with it tells me you aren’t doing your jobs,” said Middleton.

He asked Council to “Get the numbers. Know the numbers so you can make good decisions.” He added that he wouldn’t have the council’s job, but said “You wanted the job or you wouldn’t have run for it. Now do the job. If the Cherokee Road property doesn’t sell, the Town’s done. The next gavel you’ll hear bang around here will be the auctioneer on the Town Hall steps, selling off the Town’s assets.”

Doris Cole then spoke for approximately 30 minutes, questioning the Mayor and Council’s handling of the Town’s finances. “There has been a reduction in the Town’s fund balance of $800,000 over four years. Our auditors quit, because they said the Mayor wouldn’t follow their advice. He wouldn’t even return their phone calls.”

She also challenged the Council, saying, “I know you want to do the right thing, but sometimes it’s easy to just follow beautifully presented information. Phillip, you have a gift for speaking, a real gift for persuading people. But the council needs to be their own men. Let’s do the right thing, and not get in a rush. We have to make sound financial decisions.”

Cole also questioned the manner in which the public notice of the hearing was conducted. She cited state law which requires several items of information to be included, such as the amount of the previous budget, the proposed budget, the percentage of change, and other information. She charged that proper notice had not been provided.

Clardy disagreed, saying that notice of the meeting was provided. He did concede however, that some of the details might not have been included.

Cole went on to say that one of the Town’s problems is the lack of ordinances that define the Mayor’s authority and the Town’s policies on various issues. “I do apologize for asking for your resignation Monday,” she told Clardy, but added, “We can’t survive another three years of this, maybe not even one more year.”

 Keith Cole spoke next, again citing the improper public notice, and saying that the meeting could not be used as a formal reading, because of the deficiencies in the notice. “I propose we do this in accordance with the law.” He added that it was embarrassing to see headlines saying the town might go bankrupt.

Carthel Crout also spoke, challenging the Council “to hold the Mayor’s feet to the fire on this budget.”

“This town is being run by the seat of our britches. We need to make cuts in the budget, and if that means letting some people go, then that’s what we have to do,” Crout said.

Robert Vaughn spoke in support of the Mayor and the Town. “This is our government and we need to support them, right or wrong. I said long ago that we should unincorporate the town and sell its assets.”

Clardy then spoke for a long time, defending his administration, and challenging those present to “take out the personalities, take out the politics, and evaluate things based on the facts. I hold you all responsible for doing that. I have made the Town’s records available. At one time, we put the entire records of the Town on display, and 11 people came to see them. Accountability has been higher in my administration.”

Clardy also challenged auditor Larry Finney’s claims that the Mayor had been uncooperative and unresponsive. “I can show you the dates where I spoke with Mr. Finney. We work well together, and in fact, many of his suggestions are incorporated into this budget.”

Clardy then got to his main issue. “The struggle we face is providing services without expanding revenues. When’s the last time your taxes went up? This Council rolled back your taxes from 120 mills to 106, instead of keeping the tax windfall. We have made a good faith effort. We will cut services if the Council agrees, but when it’s your services that are affected, it becomes a problem then. You want a policeman there as soon as you call. You want the best fire protection available. These services cost money, folks.”

Clardy also stated that he wasn’t the only one responsible for the Town’s finances. “I say this without fear of contradiction. There are members of this Town Council who are only here when we have meetings. If they don’t take the initiative, why should I be held accountable?”

Clardy added, “We’re not asking you to do anything but get with the times. Citizens in every other town around here pay fees for services. I talk to experts in the financial field and they all tell me the same thing. You can’t continue to spend more to run the town than you’re bringing in. We have to increase our revenues somehow.”

Marion Middleton Jr. challenged Clardy, saying that he was lying to the people and not providing proper information.?????

 “Use the real numbers, Phillip,” he said. Following a heated exchange, he also offered to leave if he was told to. Clardy responded, “You’d like to have that in the newspapers, wouldn’t you?”

Middleton then said, “I’m leaving because I believe in the truth and I can’t tolerate this.” Perhaps a third of those present left with him.

Clardy then told the Council that the budget presented for second reading “has been endorsed by myself and each department head. This is what it will take to continue to provide services at their current level.”

The budget presented is based on 106 mills, and is a balanced budget, as required by law. It would include the $8.50 a month fee mentioned above.

Concerns over the public notice continued to be raised by members of the audience, and attorney Thompson explained that the Town was between a rock and a hard spot. “You will do less damage by going ahead with the budget reading than you will by entering the new year without having a budget approved. So it is the least damage that will be done.”

After further discussion, the Mayor moved that the budget receive second reading approval. The motion, seconded by Councilman Scott, failed by a 3-2 vote.

The Mayor then asked the attorney to clarify the consequences of not having a budget approved. The attorney asked for a five minute break in the meeting, which stretched to twenty minutes. During that twenty minutes, the option of approving only the portion of the budget that sets the millage arose, and was eventually approved by Council. Council then voted 5-0 on a resolution to continue the budget at 2005 levels until proper notice can be given and another public hearing held. No date for that meeting had been set as of press time.

The next meeting of Williamston Town Council will be 6 p.m. Tuesday, January 9.

Clardy said issues of compliance and capacity with the town’s sewer treatment system which were recently made public will be discussed at the January meeting of Council.

It is not known if a work session will be held prior to the regular meeting but if it is, it is usually held at 5 p.m.

Williamston’s 2006 budget shows $350,000 increase

The Town of Williamston will continue operating at 2005 budget levels until Council legally approves the 2006 budget, town officials decided last week.

Council approved first reading on a $2.55 million general fund budget for 2006 presented by Mayor Phillip Clardy on December 20.

When questions arose at the December 27 meeting about the meeting being properly advertised, second reading was postponed. Council approved operating the town at 2005 levels leaving the current millage rate at 106 mils until proper notice for a public hearing could be advertised and the vote rescheduled.

The proposed 2006 budget shows an increase of $350,000 over the 2005 budget, most of which is funded by a new household garbage collection fee and increased franchise fees for residents.

The 2006 budget includes additional funding for all departments including a warrants officer for the police department, another employee for the street department and, if the town comes in on budget during 2006, will provide an additional $50,000 for a reserve fund for equipment and repairs.

If approved with the final version of the 2006 budget, a new household garbage fee of $8.50 will be added to the water bill of all of the town’s 2245 residents and will bring in additional revenues of $228,990.

The 2006 budget also includes a 2 percent increase in franchise fees, meaning residents will also pay more on their monthly bills from Duke Power, Fort Hill Gas, and Charter Cable. The increase will bring in an additional $30,000 to $50,000 in revenue based on usage, Clardy said.

Budgeted expenses for the general fund by department are:

Administrative: $362,703, down from $369,931 for 2005. Included are salaries $225,000, (unchanged), payroll taxes $18,242 up $1000; retirement $15,810, up $1,600; vehicle expense $10,500, (not budgeted in 2005); repairs/maintenance $5,000 (not budgeted in 2005); supplies/expense $47,751, down from $53,474; uniforms $400 (not budgeted in 2005); utilities $40,000, up from $33,425.

Street Department: total expenses $399,429, down from $412,779 for 2005. Included are salaries of $253,340 up from $239,553; payroll taxes $19,456, up from $18,325; retirement $17,595, up from $16,050; vehicles $18,000 (not budgeted in 2005); repairs/maintenance $15,000 (not budgeted in 2005); supplies/expense $10,500, down from $17,355; uniforms $7,000; utilities, $51,785, up from $44,707 and solid waste fees, $5,753, (not budgeted in 2005)

Police Department: $910,771, down from  $937,193 for 2005. Included are salaries of $678,295, up from $592,681; payroll taxes $45,660, up from $39,838; retirement $61,315, up from $53,638; vehicles $22,000, up from $19,348; repairs/mainteneance $18,500, down from $20,000; supplies/expense $53,000, up from $45,000; uniforms $10,000, up from $6,200; utilities, $22,000, down from $35,875.

Parks & Rec.: $168,122, down from $183,473 for 2005. Included are salaries of $78,451, down from $87,185; payroll taxes $6,001 down from $6,695; retirement $4,661, down from $4,820; vehicles $11,000 (not budgeted for 2005); repairs/maintenance $1,500 (not budgeted for 2005); supplies/expense $6,000, down from $15,294; uniforms $3,000, up from $1,800; utilities $23,491, up from $12,567; Spring Water Festival $6,000, up from $5,072; Christmas Park $3,500, up from $1,300; little league $17,518, up from $14,150; parades $2,000 (same); July 4th celebration $5,000, up from $3,350.

Fire Dept.: $91,544, up from $50,446 for 2005. Included are salaries of $24,000 (same); repairs/maintenance $1,500 (same); vehicles $6,000, up from $2,778; fire truck interest $10,014 down from $10,983; fire truck principal $18,1134, up from $17,164; supplies/expense $18,127, up from $13,768; uniforms $2,714, down from $3,116; equipment (jaws) $5,000 (new); utilities $6,055, up from $5,274.

The budgeted expenses for each department on the 2006 budget do not include the insurance costs as they did in the 2005 budget.

The insurance cost of $182,943 is shown on the 2006 budget under nondepartmental expenses which jumped from $223,717 to $568,164.34.

Non-departmental expenses include professional fees of $67,112, up from $55,078; police fines paid to state, $122,000 (not budgeted in 2005) and payments on the bond anticipation note, $102,000 (not budgeted in 2005); health insurance bond $90,109, up from $65,158; health insurance $182,943, up from $145,900; municipal building repairs, $2,000; bank charges $200, MASC dues $1,800.

Council also approved first reading on the $1.436 million enterprise fund budget. (See seperate story)

Enterprise fund budget is $1.4 million

Williamston's Enterprise Fund Budget shows revenues and expenses at $1,436,016.

Water and sewer revenues are expected to bring in $1,405,385. Tap fees, $12,400; reconnect fees $15,331; and other revenue of $2,900.

Expenses include BB&T bond principal $222,578; BB&T interest $83,622; insurance bond, $11,632; professional fees, $24,670; salaries (administrative) $49,076; payroll taxes, $3,424; retirement $3,499; health insurance $49,810.

Also salaries water (street) $228,942; payroll taxes, $19,566; retirement, $13,173; vehicle expense, $28,894; uniforms, $3,553; utilities, $2,547; lab fees, $26,188; permits/DHEC fees, $15,961; professional fees, $82,255; supplies and expense, $49,394; repairs and maintenance, $20,000; water purchased, $301,018; vehicles, $1,663; utilities, $62,755; lab fees, $32,064; supplies/expense, $27,599; repairs & maintenance, $50,370; chemicals $21,756.

FOI information request leads to surprise meeting

By Stan Welch

Records obtained by The Journal under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (SCFOIA) show that during the last year, Anderson County spent more than $60,000 in consulting fees related to the County’s efforts to develop a mass transit plan.

The fees, paid to C&S Consulting Group, Inc., came from the County’s mass transit account. According to the invoices obtained, C&S Consulting Group has conducted meetings with officials from S. C. State University in Orangeburg, has met and conferred with Federal Transit Administration officials, and has conducted studies and analyses of various mass transit proposals, among other things. 

According to those invoices, C&S charges $135 an hour, including travel time, as well as $.35 a mile for the round trips from Columbia to Anderson, or Orangeburg.

The Journal submitted an FOIA request earlier in December seeking copies of the consultant’s credentials and qualifications, as well as any reports and correspondence generated between C&S and the County. The FOIA request also sought any invoices submitted within the last twelve months.

Response by the County was timely, though highly unusual. Notification of the availability of the information was received by The Journal in a registered letter on December 23. On December 28, Assistant County Administrator Michael Cunningham was contacted, and suggested that the documents be retrieved at 2 p.m. on December 29.

At the agreed upon time, a reporter from The Journal appeared to retrieve the documents; and was instead escorted to a conference room where the president of C&S Consulting Group, Inc.,  State Representative John L. Scott Jr., was waiting.

Perhaps Scott’s most significant action involving mass transit has been his sponsoring of House Bill 3028, which would remove mass transit from the SCDOT’s sphere of authority, and instead establish a Mobility Development Authority, whose executive director would be appointed by the Governor. The MDA would be funded by the General Assembly, and would reside within the State Budget and Control Board.

The bill, prefiled in December of 2004, was introduced and read in November of this year. It was referred to the Committee on Education and Public Works, where it remains at this time.

Rep. Scott is the representative for District 77 in Richland County. Scott also owns a real estate business in Richland County. He is a member of the House Ethics and Judiciary committees, according to the SC.GOV website maintained by the State of South Carolina. Scott is also a member of the SC State Guard, and has sponsored legislation seeking a $3000 tax deduction for the Guard’s members, which includes Anderson County Administrator Joey Preston.

During a brief conversation with the reporter, Scott, who is black, asked why the only disadvantaged contractor involved with the mass transit project had been singled out for an FOIA inquiry. The reporter responded that C&S’s status as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) had not been known at the time of the FOIA request.

The reporter further responded that the reason for the FOIA request was not based on any consideration other than the question of qualifications by the consulting firm for the job they were doing. The reporter also asked Rep. Scott why he had traveled all the way from Columbia during the Christmas holidays over a simple, legitimate FOIA request for documents related to his company and its relationship with Anderson County. He declined to reply when the reporter began to write his answer down.

The credentials provided by the County in response to the FOIA request consisted of a single page from SCDOT informing Ms. Joan Scott, Scott’s wife and partner in the consulting firm, that C&S had been certified as a DBE, authorized to consult in several areas of transportation, including mass transit. No indication is made of any specific education, experience, or training in the mass transit field. C&S Consulting Group, Inc.’s application for DBE status has been requested from the SCDOT under the SCFOIA.

That application was made under the South Carolina Unified Certification Program, (SCUCP), which the SCDOT’s website describes as a “One Stop Shopping” certification procedure that will eliminate the need for DBE firms to obtain certifications from multiple agencies within the State.”

So unusual was the presence of Scott that The Journal contacted the South Carolina Press Association to report the incident and seek an opinion as to its propriety. SCPA Executive Director Bill Rogers called the incident “highly unusual and improper. I don’t see how it could be illegal, but it is certainly unusual. I can’t recall ever hearing of something like that happening before.”

David C. Meade, Managing Editor of The Journal, said, “It certainly seems that if they are going to inform Rep. Scott of a reporter’s presence, they should do the reporter the same courtesy of telling him that Rep. Scott was going to be there. We will be asking County Council and the County Administrator for a written expression of the County’s policy of arranging this type meeting with members of the media.”

County accepts land in Clemson Research Park

By Stan Welch

A reconvened and refreshed County Council, under the leadership of newly elected Chairman Larry Greer, made no abrupt changes in the direction set last year, when Councilwoman Gracie Floyd held the gavel.

Councilman Bill McAbee was elected vice chairman, though neither election was unanimous, with Councilwoman Cindy Wilson abstaining in the vote for chairman, while Councilwoman Gracie Floyd abstained in the vote for vice chairman. Both men were chosen without opposition.

Two related ordinances which stirred some controversy late last year were approved with little opposition in the new year. The two ordinances provided for the issuance of a special revenue source tax credit to be given to S&T Enterprises, which owns the Hilton Garden complex, to ease the burden of constructing a convention center at the site of the existing hotel facility. The other ordinance made that site eligible for inclusion in the multi purpose industrial park. It also made several adjacent parcels owned by S&T eligible as well.

Third reading changes in the language of the ordinance establishing the tax credit drew some criticism from Councilwoman Wilson, who questioned Director of Economic Development John Lummus. Lummus responded that the changes actually strengthened the County’s position, by requiring that the company certify that the investment benchmark of $2 million and the required number of created jobs had been reached before the tax credit kicked in.

Wilson asked how that certification would be provided. “What manner of accounting will be used to certify those events?” said Wilson. Lummus said that the treasurer’s and auditor’s offices would be involved, based on tax figures.

Wilson repeated her consistent opposition to both ordinances, saying that it was simply unfair to offer such incentives, which she says were intended to attract industrial investment, to commercial concerns instead.

Chairman Greer joined Wilson in contesting the ordinances, citing his philosophical opposition to extending such incentives to non-industrial businesses as well. He added that he considered the proposed convention center to be a good project for Anderson, as did Wilson.

Both votes were 4-2, with Councilman Bill McAbee recusing himself from both votes.

An ordinance to allow the County to accept title to land purchased in the Clemson Research Park by the Anderson County Development Partnership was approved by title only. The ordinance, designed to allow the County to benefit from grants associated with developing the property was not completed due to surgery which County Attorney Tom Martin underwent recently.

Council elected three members to the Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission. The ordinance establishing that commission calls for three members to be appointed by County Council, to represent unincorporated areas of the county. Four people were nominated: Amos Wells, Dennis Claramunt, Rut Riddle and David Jones. Each Council member could vote for three of the nominees.

After a preliminary round of votes, all four nominees had received majority votes. Jones and Riddle received 6 votes each, leading to a runoff between Wells and Claramunt, with Wells receiving a majority vote, and becoming the third member of the commission.

Another case in which the council’s new leadership chose to follow an established course of action came when Councilwoman Wilson, during the Council’s remarks portion of the agenda, challenged Mr. Preston’s decision to charge the Council’s budget $26.25 for GLR110 reports furnished to her. She also added that she still was not receiving current reports in a timely manner, and asked Preston why. Preston replied that he would respond in a memo at a later time.

Wilson was dissatisfied with that answer, and said, “Ms. Davis’ deposition stated that these reports are generated weekly, and that two copies are printed – one for Mr. Preston and one for me. I still don’t have December’s reports. Mr. Preston stated under oath that he holds them until he can review them, before I get them. I take exception to that. He gets them weekly, and so should I.”

Wilson was referring to depositions taken several weeks ago from Finance Director Rita Davis and Joey Preston, in relation to a writ of mandamus action she has filed in order to obtain financial records of the County.

That legal battle has continued for several years, at significant cost to both parties. A simple majority vote by Council to direct the release of the information by Preston could resolve the impasse, but again, Greer chose to follow the long established stance of Council.

 “I am not going to take that up at this time. We’ll leave it where it is. Mr. Preston had said he will respond at a later time, and I expect him to,” said Greer.

 

 

 

 

 

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