News Archive

(0306) Week of Jan. 18, 2006

Letter to detail financial status
“The town will come through this” ACOG official says
Former mayor speaks out
Business community offers suggestions
Two District One schools named finalists For Palmetto’s Finest
County continues to show growth report shows
Miss Palmetto winners named
Deputies investigate assault incidents 

Letter to detail financial status

Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said Wednesday that he and the town are taking the steps necessary to bring the financial crisis facing the town under control. According to Clardy, that includes cutting services, increasing revenues and doing what is necessary to bring the town to financial stability.

The town’s financial status and plans to bring it under control will be detailed in a letter from him and town council which will be sent to town residents in the next two weeks, Clardy said.

The mayor and council members have been meeting with consultant Bob Daniel and other advisors recently to get a handle on where the town is. The meetings are still underway and are being presented as details of the town’s finances are discovered. A public community meeting will also be announced in the near future to allow residents to ask questions about the town’s situation, Clardy said.

According to Clardy, the town will have to “cut services or increase revenues” to address the financial difficulties the town is facing, a message he has had for some time.

He said the town has made cuts in the budget and is looking at increased options for revenue, including passing insurance costs to employees and a garbage collection fee.

“The next cuts will affect services provided,” he said. “We are willing to do what ever is necessary to bring the town to financial stability.” The mayor said the town may cut services but will only consider cutting people “as a last resort.”

“We have cut the budget to the point where we will have to cut services,” Clardy said.

Clardy maintains that the proposed garbage collection fee is something almost all other municipalities have.

“We have to look at what is the town not doing that others are doing.”

“We are so far behind the times,” Clardy said.  “We need to be at least equal to other municipalites. We haven’t raised taxes in 10 years.”

Clardy said he expects cuts, additional fees and the possibility of borrowing more money to get the town out of the current situation. He said the decision will be left up to the Council.

To deal with problems concerning the waste water treatment and the old water treatment plant on which the town is still paying, Clardy said the town may consider reconsolidating loans to avoid a rate increase.

“The enterprise fund is not in as serious condition,” he said. “We want to take the position of progressive maintenance.”

“I take full responsibility for my administration, for this council and the decisions we have to make,” Clardy said. “We will bring our town to stability as our residents expect.”

Clardy said he is working on a draft letter from the mayor and council which will be sent to residents in the next two weeks.

The letter will explain the town’s financial status in detail and the steps the town intends to take to address the situation.

Clardy also said he is already taking some of the steps presented to him by the Greater Williamston Business Association as suggestions to deal with the town’s situation.

Clardy said the town has paid the second quarter payroll taxes and is working out terms on the third quarter. He said the fourth quarter is just now due, so only the third quarter is delinquent.

He also said he has met with accountant Larry Finney, and was told that at this point, Finney has said all he needs to Council in the audit. Clardy said he had asked Finney to be at the next meeting but said “He (Finney) didn’t see where that would accomplish anything,” the mayor said.

Clardy did say that a new auditor would be a good thing for the town, but did not rule out the possibility of working with Finney’s auditing firm in the future.

Clardy also said he and council members have met with Bob Daniel and that he is seeking advice from Joe Newton of the Appalachian Council of Governments (ACOG).

According to Clardy, Newton was very optimistic. He has worked with six or seven other SC towns that have had similar problems, and according to Clardy said “not a town that hasn’t come through better.”

Clardy said after meeting with Bob Daniel and the other advisors, he will meet with the department heads, then with council in a called meeting to discuss the situation.

A letter will be sent out with plans to correct the problems facing the town both short term and long term.

Clardy said the town has also met with the state officials and is attempting to meet with federal officials about working out a payment plan on the withholdings.

“The town will come through this” ACOG official says

By Stan Welch

The financial woes facing Williamston are substantial, but can be fixed, according to Joe Newton, Director of Operations at the Appalachian Council of Governments (ACOG).

“It’s going to be rough, and it’s going to be unpleasant, especially for the people who work for the Town of Williamston. But it can be fixed, and it will be,” said Newton in a recent telephone interview.

“We came into the situation just recently. Last Thursday, I spoke with the Mayor and some of the Council members. Friday, the Mayor provided some audit statements and other financial records, and we’ve been plowing through them ever since. We will be meeting with various Town officials and staff, as we work through these issues,” said Newton.

 Newton’s confidence in the outcome stems from the results of similar efforts by other towns across the state in recent years. The towns of  Iva, Duncan, Woodruff, Chesnee, and Belton have all faced similar difficulties in the past few years. All have recovered or are well on their way to recovery, according to Newton.

 “Iva is doing fine now, and Belton recovered so smoothly and well that most people don’t even remember they were in trouble for awhile.” Bob Daniel, whom Newton refers to as “the special auditor” for Williamston, oversaw Iva’s recovery efforts a couple of years ago.

 There is another reason for Newton’s certainty about the outcome of Williamston’s financial challenges. When asked about the possibility of the town declaring bankruptcy or dissolving as a corporate body, Newton had a one word answer, which he repeated three times. 

“No! No! No! There is no such thing as bankruptcy for a town or city in South Carolina. The state constitution prohibits it. So that simply isn’t an option. Hard choices and painful decisions are going to have to be made, and lived with. Every dime that the Town of Williamston owes must and will be repaid, whether it’s a loan, or a bond, or money owed to a vendor. There are no other options.”

 Dissolving the town as a political and corporate entity, says Newton, “is the worst idea imaginable. It achieves nothing except a loss of control over the situation. The debts don’t dissolve, and the people of Williamston are responsible, whether the Town continues to exist or not. So that really makes no sense at all.”

 “The Town will come through this. Other towns have, and so will Williamston. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be fun. But they can do this, and I’m sure they will.”

Former mayor speaks out

Former Williamston Mayor Marion Middleton met with members of the media today (Wednesday) to express his concerns with the town’s financial situation and to hopefully get his name out of the public spotlight.

In an interview held at the Lander Memorial Library, Middleton said he did transfer $76,000 into a corporation to avoid interfering with his state retirement. “It was wrong and when I was told that, I quit,” he said.

“I accept full responsibility for that and I paid the price and paid the money back in two months,” Middleton said. “I wanted to go on with my life.”

When asked if any lesson had been learned, the former mayor responded first “don’t get involved in local politics.”

He then went on to say, “Be sure you have enough income not to have to worry about serving in a position like this,” so you will not have to cut your income, he said.

He also said to ask questions and don’t make this mistake, which he said was “a bad error in judgement.”

“My name has got to quit appearing in the media for something I did five or seven years ago,” Middleton said during the interview.

Middleton said that he was speaking out, mainly because of an incident that occurred at the last meeting of Council. He said that  when he was leaving the meeting, a police officer made a statement asking if Middleton could be arrested for trespassing.

“I would not have said anything if that police officer had not said something about filing suit.”

He also said that he was concerned with the financial condition of the town in which he lives and still loves.

Middleton said that the condition of the town’s finances has been blamed on  insurance premiums, retirement and payroll, “all of which increase when employees are added.”

The former mayor said that when he was in office, the town operated with 40 full time employees, two parttime judges and one parttime little league director.

According to Middleton, Clardy hired 11 people in the first six months and at one time was up to 60 employees. He said he thinks the town has 51 employees at present.

“It is only common sense if you hire more people, insurance, taxes, and retirement will increase. As far as what got us into this mess, he hired a lot more people.”

Middleton said that he had not been involved in the town’s politics because he had not been asked to and he felt if he spoke out it would be seen as a personal vendetta.

Middleton also defended the town’s borrowing under his administration, saying that the town borrowed money for infrastructure and other projects and tax anticipation notes were paid back very quickly.

The current mayor has continually justified present borrowing by his administration by what he says is a pattern of previous borrowing. 

Middleton said that tax anticipation notes were usually done in a situation such as reassessment in which a company may protest their tax assessment and the town doesn’t receive the money until it is settled.

“We were able to borrow, and when we collected the money, we paid it off,” Middleton said.

“In November we might borrow money which had to be paid back by January 15 when we collected taxes.”

At the start of the interview, Middleton read a statement published in a daily newpaper in 2002, in which Clardy was quoted as saying the town “was in sound financial shape.”

He also addressed repeated statements by Clardy that the money in the town’s funds was from taxes collected.

Middleton pointed out that when he left office the town had $141,000 in the enterprise fund and $441,443 in the general fund and that the town had $13,698 in interest income for the year, indicating that the town had enough money to draw the interest and that the amounts were not just taxes collected.

“We have to accept the fact that we are in bad shape financially,” Middleton said. “We have to find some solution to the problem.”

Middleton said from what he has seen about the town’s finances, he believes the town will have to have $1.45 million to pay up the bills and another $2 million to operate on for the rest of the year.

“We will need $3 to $4 million to come out of it,” Middleton said. “The council and the mayor will have to face reality. The people of the town need to realize that there are dire financial problems.”

Middleton, who said he had served in the Korean war to protect the liberties of a free country, said he will attend meetings when he is in town to “to see what is going on.”

Middleton also said he plans to again ask for a pardon, which he has been refused in the past.

“I have done everything they have asked me to do,” he said, stating that the group that “he takes down” has been very vocal. “They hardly let me speak when I go down there.”

Business community offers suggestions

Members of the Greater Williamston Business Association (GWBA) took a bold step Tuesday, unanimously approving a resolution urging the mayor of Williamston to take certain steps to “initiate community healing.”

Responding to the suggestions which were presented to him Tuesday, Mayor Phillip Clardy said Wednesday that he didn’t see anything beyond what he could do and that the suggestions made were “basically what I intend to do anyway.”

The local business group, responding to recent news about the condition of the town’s finances, offered their support to the mayor by making the following suggestions:

First - admit that there is a problem with the town’s finances and assume accountabitlity for those problems as the Mayor of the Town.

Commit to seeking the help of a professional financial advisor with expertise in the area of muncipality financial planning and promise that you will adhere to that advice.

Refrain from any further effort to place the blame on the previous administration.

Commit to a budget with the expense cuts necessary to operate within the existing revenues generated by the town.

Adhere to the budget even if it requires drastically reducing the services the town currently provides and/or eliminating several jobs on the town’s payroll.

Commit to full disclosure of all the town’s affairs to the members of Town Council, keeping them fully apprised of all significant issues that face the town.

Commit to the citizens of Williamston to answer any question concerning the town’s operation, to the best of your ability, unless it is illegal or unethical to do so. If you do not know the answer, just say so, and get back to them with the answer in a timely manner.

Hold a community meeting to make these commitments public. 

Finally, respond to those present at the community meeting with straight forward answers to prove to them, and the whole community, that you mean what you say.

The suggestions were presented to the mayor Tuesday by GWBA representative Jim Simpson, who said the mayor basically agreed.

During their regular monthly meeting Tuesday, twelve members of the association, which represents the Williamston area business community, unanimously voted to support the resolution.

Simpson said representatives of the association “were willing to make a stand” because the negative headlines the town is getting is beginning to affect local businesses and the community as a whole.

“It is hard for me to recruit a new grocery store or sell a house when the town has this type controversy going on,” Simpson said.

Other members agreed that the negative publicity the town is receiving is beginning to affect their businesses.

Simpson asked the members to endorse the idea to show “support behind the mayor and to put this town back where we need to be.”

The association also took the first step toward increasing membership and hopefully promoting the town by hiring an executive director. 

The part time position will be filled by Dan Davis, a retired consultant who has experience in promoting tourism and businesses. Davis will help identify opportunities to better promote Williamston and the surrounding community and will work with the association on membership and other special activities including the downtown revitalization project.

Two District One schools named finalists For Palmetto’s Finest

Two Anderson District One schools, Palmetto Elementary and Palmetto High School, have been named as finalists for the Carolina First Palmetto’s Finest Awards.

Twelve schools from across the state are selected for the award based on extensive evaluations by fellow educators. The application process includes elements on student achievement, faculty training, program goals and teaching quality, office practices, and community involvement.

 Last fall, Palmetto Elementary and Palmetto High submitted a 20-page application and received an on site visit by a review committee. Each of the twelve finalists are now undergoing a second onsite evaluation.

Representatives of the finalist schools will gather in Columbia at the Koger Center for the Arts, at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 28, to learn which four have won the top honors.

The coveted awards, sponsored by Carolina First Bank and the SC Association of School Administrators (SCASA), are presented each year to two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.

Jerome Hudson, Principal of Palmetto Elementary said, “It is certainly an honor to be a finalist for two consecutive years. It is further evidence of the quality of the instruction program and students in our community. I am looking forward to going to Columbia. and competing there.  We are already winners by the factor of being selected to attend the celebration on February 28th.”

Director of Elementary Education Jane Harrison, states, “Palmetto Elementary School’s accomplishment is a joint venture between administration, faculty, staff, parents and community. They are committed to raising student achievement and to academic success for all. The teachers work diligently to provide standards-based lessons that are engaging and purposeful. They are consistently involved in staff development, book studies, attending conferences, writing curriculum and assessment for the district, among many other opportunities. Anderson District One is extremely proud of the high standards Palmetto Elementary has set for their students. The school is a model of a true community of learners. During any visit to the school, you will find parent volunteers or community members sharing the same goal of assisting each student in achieving their highest potential.” 

“I am very proud on our first attempt to be a finalist and receive a second visit,” states Dr. Mason Gary, principal at Palmetto High. “The visiting committee went through the school in a very thorough manner speaking with students at random and dropping in on most classrooms. I would like to commend the faculty, staff, students and parents for their hard work during this rigorous process.”

“Palmetto High School, its students, faculty, and administration, as well as its community of supporters from families to citizens within the attendance area of the school, are very deserving of any and all recognition such as that offered by becoming a finalist in the Carolina First Palmetto’s Finest competition.  Palmetto High is truly a school in which we as a district take great pride,” stated John Pruitt, Director of Secondary Education for Anderson School District One. 

“Palmetto High offers a great academic tradition that continues to be enhanced each semester through well thought out, thoroughly researched, new and better programs by a well-trained and very enthusiastic administration and faculty.  Palmetto High School is genuinely ‘all about the students’ with every resource directed towards increasing their academic and societal achievements,” Pruitt continued.  “Character and academic high expectations are evident in the hallways, classrooms, and playing fields of Palmetto High School, one of South Carolina’s finest preparing today’s students for success in tomorrow’s world.”

The 12 finalists are: Palmetto Elementary, Anderson 1; Palmetto High, Anderson 1; Doby’s Mill Elementary, Kershaw County; Forest Lake Elementary, Richland 2; Myrtle Beach Intermediate, Horry; New Prospect Elementary, Spartanburg 1; Blythewood Middle, Richland 2; Northwest Middle, Greenville; Carvers Bay, Georgetown; Gaffney High, Cherokee County; Greenville Technical Charter School, Greenville County and Waccamaw Bay, Georgetown

County continues to show growth

By Stan Welch

Anderson County Council approved a resolution which returned responsibility for and control of the Anderson County Detention Center to Sheriff David Crenshaw. The move was touted as a means of cost reduction and eliminating a duplication of efforts.

No estimate of the savings was offered, but the only resistance to the idea was due to concerns over whether all existing work programs at ACDC would be continued. Sheriff Crenshaw reassured Council that “We intend to work every one of them as much as the state allows. I don’t like the idea of them sitting around on their behinds out there either. They are a valuable resource for the county, and we want to save the taxpayers’ money.” After amending the resolution to reflect the continuation of the work programs, the vote to approve the resolution was unanimous. An attempt by Councilwoman Cindy Wilson to amend the resolution to also place the Park Police under the Sheriff’s Department died for a lack of a second.

Council also gave second reading approval to an ordinance authorizing the purchase of land in the Clemson Research Park. Councilwoman Cindy Wilson objected mildly to the proposal, saying that since the land was originally purchased with public funds, the price should have been “one dollar and other considerations.” She asked what the price being paid was in fact. Economic Development Director John Lummus answered, saying the County had $300,000 set aside, and that the Anderson County Development Partnership, which is also funded by the County, would contribute funds, in addition to some grant monies being used as well. Despite explaining the various contributions to the project, Lummus never provided the total cost of the purchase.

Council also approved an amended resolution authorizing a lease purchase agreement in the amount of $4.12 million. The amended version of the resolution included bid figures from banks seeking to loan the money to the County. County Attorney Tom Martin reported that eight bids were received, a number he called “unusually high”. The low bid for the interest rate on the loan came from Wachovia, at 3.485%.

Councilwoman Cindy Wilson asked if the 2006 Denali which was bought to replace a 2005 model that was wrecked was in the $4.1 million package. Chairman Greer asked if Mr. Preston would like to answer the question. Preston replied, “Not really, but I will. The Denali is not in the package.”  When Wilson asked where the original Denali was authorized, Preston replied, “It is in the budget and in my contract. I won’t answer more than that.”

Chairman Greer pointed out that the County’s good bond rating is the reason for the high number of bidders and the low interest rates, saying, “We should remember how important that is. It saves our citizens hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of dollars.” The resolution was passed 6-1 with Wilson opposing.

The issue of amended resolutions continued to arise, as the Council moved on to a resolution that would allow the county to form a consortium with the various municipalities in order to obtain federal grants to be used in upgrading housing conditions. Wilson asked that the language be amended to insure that all municipalities in the County “be treated fairly. There are people in other towns who have asked for help before and they deserve the same help Anderson does.”

Chairman Greer agreed, but pointed out that the language in the resolution was designed specifically to comply with federal expectations. He defused the situation by instructing Michael Cunningham, the assistant county administrator to send a letter to each municipality in the county, making sure they are aware of the programs and inviting them to participate. The resolution passed unanimously.

Planning Director Jeff Ricketson presented a report on population growth within the County. Not surprisingly, the greatest growth continues within an area stretching five miles on either side of the I-85 corridor. Overall growth since the 2000 census has been at a 12% rate for the County, with 20,000 more residents estimated to have moved in. District Seven has enjoyed considerable growth, at the same overall 12% rate. The District now has the third highest population in the county, with 27,060 people.

 In a surprising development, longtime citizen representative to the ACOG Board of Directors, Joe Davenport was not reappointed, although Councilwoman Gracie Floyd nominated him. Instead, Dennis Clairmont was elected. Gracie Floyd was reappointed as the minority representative.

District 6 Councilman Bill Dees moved to officially name the recently acquired park in Powdersville after Dolly Cooper. That announcement had been made at a December press conference by County Administrator Joey Preston, but Dees moved to make the decision official Tuesday night.

Councilwoman Cindy Wilson stated that the property itself was acquired without a vote by council. She also challenged Preston’s previous explanation that the expenditure was authorized in a general obligations bond issue in 2004-05 budget.

Preston denied Wilson’s charge that he had announced that Council had voted to name the park after Cooper. “I didn’t say the Council voted. I said the park would be named after Mr. Cooper. We usually do that at budget time.”

Miss Palmetto winners named

Winners in the Miss Palmetto Pageant held Saturday were: (l-r) 4th runner-up, Dee Powell; 2nd runner-up, Margaret Mathis; Miss Palmetto 2006 and Miss Photogenic,  Crystal Stewart; 1st runner-up, Hannah Rogers;  3rd runner - up and Grand Talent Winner, Mandy Prater. (Not pictured) Ad Sales Winner - Candace Doolittle; Miss Congeniality - Carla Childs. 

 

Deputies investigate assault incidents

Anderson County Sheriff’s Deputies investigated several incidents including thefts, a fight, and an assault by a vehicle.

PELZER

Jan. 3 – M.D. Campbell received a report of the theft of a utility trailer from the home of Charlie Burns, at 21 Burts St. The trailer was a six foot by 10 foot black mesh type trailer.

Jan. 3 – J.J. Jacobs responded to a complaint at the lower Gerber Mill, where Clarence Blanton reported that someone had broken into a storage room at the site and stolen a chain saw, a battery charger and other items, with a total estimated value of $630.

Jan. 4 – J.J. Jacobs observed a white Nissan with a damaged windshield traveling south on Midway Road, then turning left onto Rogers Road. He stopped the vehicle, which was driven by Dwayne Martin, BM, 25, 5’7", 145 pounds, of 109 Rice Street in Belton. Martin had no driver’s license, and for good reason. He had three driving under suspension (DUS) convictions in the last five years. He was arrested for his fourth DUS and transported to ACDC.

Jan. 4 – J.J. Jacobs responded to the West Pelzer Town Hall, where town employee Michael Mahaffey reported that someone had used a town backhoe which had been left at 128 Arthur Davis Circle to dig up a stump at 126 Arthur Davis Circle, where the backhoe was found. The backhoe was started with a pair of tweezers, and suffered damage to some of the hydraulic hoses, in the amount of $600. Robert Neal King, who lives at 126 Arthur Davis Circle, and who, according to Mahaffey, had asked him to dig the stump up the day before, said he left for work at 6:30 that morning, and the backhoe hadn’t been moved or used.

Jan. 6 – T.B. Dugan responded to the Sav-Way store on Hwy. 20 in Pelzer, where he spoke to both Ronald Holbrooks, WM,39, and Kenneth Dale Sweet, WM, 36, 5’6", 150 pounds, blk/blue. According to Holbrooks and other witnesses, Sweet came upon Holbrooks and Sweet’s ex-girlfriend at the Fred’s store on Hwy 20. Holbrooks’ two children, and another child were in the truck, also.

Reports state that after an altercation there, Holbooks managed to leave the parking lot where Sweet had blocked him in and head for West Pelzer. Sweet then passed him at a high rate of speed, almost running them off the road. The victim pulled into a tire store and turned around, while Sweet turned into a lot across the highway. When Holbrooks  left the tire store location, Sweet allegedly tried to ram him with his truck. Holbrooks headed for West Pelzer, where he saw a West Pelzer police officer and asked for help. Sweet arrived at the same location, and after the ACSO was contacted, he was arrested for assault and battery with a deadly weapon, and transported to ACDC.

PIEDMONT

Jan.3 – J.J. Jacobs and M.D. Campbell responded to 522 Osteen Hill road, where they found Michelle Cooley, WF, 23, 5’, 100 pounds, brn/grn, sitting on the ground, covered with mud and bleeding from the mouth. Cooley said she and her sister-in-law, Amy Gill, WF, 23, 5’4", 110, red/blue, had argued. The argument began over the location of Gill’s driver’s license, which she wanted so she could go visit her common law husband at the ACDC. Reports state the two ended up out on the ground, where Gill reportedly held Cooley down and punched and kicked her several times. Cooley was transported to Greenville Memorial by the Pelzer Rescue Squad, and Gill was arrested and charged with assault.

Jan. 3 –R.A. Malone responded to Atha’s Family Restaurant in Powdersville, where he and several other officers found the doors open. A subsequent search of the premises indicated that they had surprised the thief in the building, but he escaped while they were entering through the front door. Some of the $400 stolen was found just outside the rear door of the building.

Jan. 4 – J.L. Bergholm received a report of theft from a job site at 158 Reserve Dr. by  Adam Jurewicz. The house under construction was entered and several items stolen, including a dishwasher, a stovetop, a ceiling fan, with a total estimated value of almost $3500.

WILLIAMSTON

Jan. 3 – A. Digirolamo received a report from John Rankling Skipper that a 1000 foot roll of copper wire, valued at $7000, was removed from the construction site of the new Walgreen’s distribution center. The roll weighed 2500 pounds, indicating that some type of equipment was used to load it.

Jan. 3 – M.D. Campbell received a complaint from Sheron Dahling, that two tenants recently evicted from 523 Willingham Rd., had damaged her mobile home, by making holes in the walls and stealing two interior doors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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