(1308) Week of Mar. 26, 2008
commission looking for assurances on tax
By Stan Welch
The Capital Sales Tax Projects (CPST) Commission continues to see public skepticism as a major obstacle to be overcome if the proposed one cent sales tax is to have a fighting chance of being passed later this year.
At the most recent Commission meeting, held Tuesday, March 25, the issue came up over and over, with various references to the problem being made by the commissioners.
So significant was the issue as the commission held public meetings across the county that the Commission Chairman David Jones approached Councilman Larry Greer about passing an ordinance establishing an oversight committee to supervise the spending of the tax revenues generated by the tax, should it pass.
That proposed ordinance has received second reading, although an amendment at the last council meeting completely altered the makeup of the committee. It had been proposed that the chair and vice chair of the Commission, plus one other member, would make up the oversight committee.
Both the chairman and vice chairman of the Commission are from the Belton area, with the Chairman being a close political ally of Greers.
That idea ran into opposition from Councilwoman Gracie Floyd, who essentially said she didnt trust that approach.
I know Anderson County, and I know I will feel a lot better if there is someone from my district watching out for the people in my district. She moved to establish a committee wherein each Council member would appoint a member, with the current commission Chairman to serve as committee chairman as well. The idea was later amended to make the commission a seven member one, to avoid tie votes, and to allow them to choose their own Chairman.
Also included in that proposed ordinance was a provision that a quarterly independent audit be conducted to insure that the funds are being expended properly. The language of the ordinance called for the county administrator to provide for such quarterly independent audits in the Countys budget until such time as the CPST should expire.
All these requirements were naturally contingent upon the adoption of the sales tax at the November election.
Not included in the language of the proposed ordinance, as presented at the March 18 Council meeting was a proviso requested by the Commission that would prevent any reduction in the existing budget of the transportation department, in compensation for the increased funding provided by the sales tax.
CPST Commission Chair David Jones addressed that issue at the March 25 meeting, while speaking to District Six Councilman Ron Wilson, who appeared to present his list of projects.
Mr. Wilson, I would like to see the current Council pass a resolution stating that none of them , while seated on the Council, would vote to approve any budget that would reduce current funding levels for the transportation department. I have asked councilman Greer to introduce such a resolution. I believe such a guarantee would be very helpful in promoting this tax and in building support of it. There is a great distrust of government in the public right now, and not just as it pertains to Anderson County.
Councilman Wilson said that he personally would support such a resolution.
Later in the meeting, Commission member Rusty Burns asked County Transportation Director Holt Hopkins how the project engineer would be chosen. When Hopkins replied that a management company would oversee the projects, and that county policy allowed the county administrator to make that decision, one commissioner said, Dont put that on the ballot.
Hopkins went on to say that Wilbur Smith Inc. had been deeply involved in the CPST process over the last four years. My personal preference would be to see them put in charge. They are familiar with our situation and they certainly have the expertise that I need to do this. I cant take my crews off their regular work for seven years. We have to contract this out, and Wilbur Smith can certainly handle a job of this size.
Burns agreed, saying, Their reputation and qualifications are clearly established. I think they would be a logical choice. But make no mistake. This is in many ways a jobs bill. A lot of people will get work because of this. I just want to know who gets a taste. Thats all.
Judy Shelato, county engineer, said that there is a qualifying process to be undergone, and that the competition for such jobs is keen. We did a relatively small bridge job last year and we had ten firms bid on it. Thats one result of the York County experience with their sales tax. These companies know the money will be there and they want to do the work.
By Stan Welch
A representative of the economic development entity known as the Upstate Alliance spoke to County Council at last weeks meeting, and received strong indications of disapproval for a potential change in the name of the organization.
Al Johnson repeatedly assured the Council members, some of whom are on the Upstate Alliance Board of Directors, that any proposed name change is far from anaccomplished fact, and that any such suggestion came from the Alliances paid consultants, and not from the staff itself.
Johnson explained that the consultants suggested changing the name to UpState Alliance/Greenville Spartanburg. Based on their studies and marketing surveys, the Greenville/Spartanburg name is the one that jumps to peoples minds when they think of this region. This idea is simply a reflection of the research we have done, but no decisions have been made to change the name.
Several Council members made their opposition plain. Councilman Larry Greer said that one of the selling points when the Alliance was being formed more than ten years ago was the promise that all three Counties would be promoted and marketed as sites seeking to attract economic development to the area.
Councilwoman Gracie Floyd added that Anderson County was just as important as the other two. Im not second place to anybody, said Floyd. And I dont expect to be treated that way. Eventually the Council passed a resolution expressing their opposition to the name change.
The vote was 5-0 -1 with Councilwoman Cindy Wilson abstaining. (Editors note: Councilman Ron Wilson was not in attendance at the last Council meeting.) It doesnt bother me if the Greenville/Spartanburg name draws the attention to this area. The fact is that Anderson County has the most available land for development. So if Greenville gets them looking at the area, and then they see where the land is, Anderson benefits. It seems myopic to me to oppose the use of a well established brand name, so to speak, said Wilson.
While the name change spurred the most lively discussion, Johnson had other information to share as well. Asked by Councilman Waldrep what the single most important point about successful economic development would be, Johnson didnt hesitate. It is very important that there is a single, unified message concerning economic development. There doesnt need to be multiple arms of the economic development effort out there. Duplication and confusion dont help anyone, said Johnson.
Waldrep and Councilwoman Wilson have recently questioned significant expenses by the County under the umbrella of economic development. Some of those expenses include travel, lodging and dining expenses for members of Council and their appointees to the economic development board.
Johnson also pointed out that the dearth of frontage roads and the coincident lack of access to Interstate frontage. Anderson County has approximately forty miles of frontage along I-85, but there is very little access to it, he said.
Anderson County Sheriffs Deputies investigated a number of incidents including one in which a man offered to help someone with gas money and ended up losing a lot of cash. Among incidents investigated were:
March 18 R.S. Thompson was dispatched to 4414 Midway Rd. where Pat Savas reported the theft of several power tools and hand tools valued at $415 from her shed.
March 18 J.R. Finley responded to Holiday Dam Road where Stephen Cooper reported that he had been advised by Duke Power Co. that one of several barges being used at the location had been stolen. The barge, eight foot by eight foot, and with a diamond plate steel design, was valued at $2000. It was taken by two white males in a rollback wrecker bearing SC tag# 297WDT. The tag turned out to be stolen from Charleston.
March 18 A. Land was dispatched to 914 N. Major Rd. where Robert Norris reported the theft of a Rigid miter saw from that location. The loss was estimated at $300.
March 19 C. Holbrooks was dispatched to the New Hopewell Church at 209 Dorchester Rd. where Spurgeon Mattison reported that someone had broken into the fenced area surrounding the churchs air conditioners and had stolen the two units. The loss was estimated at $2400.
March 20 C. Holbrooks responded to 1916 Trail Dr. where Wanda Sams reported that someone had stripped her brothers 1993 Ford Taurus of several parts, including the hood, the front fenders, the headlights and the wheels. The loss was valued at $260.
March 21 A. Land was dispatched to 225 Blue Ridge Circle where Emma Flippin reported the theft of $100 and two checkbooks from her residence.
March 21 W.B. Simpson responded to Bill Kay Rd. where William Cannon reported the theft of a TAFE tractor, beige with a red hood, valued at $9785. Also stolen was a blue 5 foot bush hog valued at $500.
March 22 J.T. Lee responded to DR Simmons Rd. where he found that someone had backed into a portable toilet at the construction site and knocked it over. Damage was estimated at $100.
March 23 A. Land was dispatched to 1303 Anderson St. in response to a burglar alarm at Gus Home Center. When the key holder arrived a review of the surveillance video revealed two unknown subjects smash the door and take four bags of Merit corn valued at $307 a bag.
March 22 B.K. Baxter was dispatched to 503 Hamlin Rd. to McCollums Recycling where Brook McCollum reported the theft of 30 old catalytic converters valued at $1600 and twelve aluminum wheels valued at $405.
March 24 T.B. Dugan observed David Owens, WM, 43, 6, 250 pounds, brn/brn, of 441 Hall Rd. walking barefoot and without a coat on Anderson Rd. He stopped and checked Owens for warrants and found that there was an active warrant on him. He was taken into custody.
March 18 J.B. Coker and C. Whitfield apprehended Nathan Vaughn, WM, 26, 56", 130 pounds, of Williamston in reference to an active Greenville warrant. He was transported to the county line where a GCSO deputy took custody of him.
March 18 P.D. Marter was dispatched to 1217 Old River Rd. where Vernon Bryant reported that someone had broken out several bulbs in an antique lamp affixed to his house. Damage was estimated at $300.
March 18 & 19 D. Williams and W.B. Simpson investigated five separate incidences of forgery of checks assigned to Margie Colley, 77, of Greenville. The checks, all drawn on Sun Trust Bank, totaled $456.
March 19 R. Beddingfield responded to the Raceway gas station at 3010 Hwy. 153 where Gary Hillman reported the theft of his 1995 Dodge Ram 4X4 long bed blue and silver truck. The truck, bearing NC tag #CJ3438 was stolen while Hillman was inside paying for his gas.
March 19 L.E. Meador responded to 2206 River Rd. where Marie Burtz reported the theft of a mini bike from her yard. The loss was estimated at $500.
March 21 K.D.Pigman was dispatched to the Little General at 901 Anderson Rd. where Scott Pittman reported that two air conditioning units had been stolen from the store, which he was remodeling for its owner. The units were valued at $6000.
March 22 T.B. Dugan responded to a call where a man reported that he had found his daughter at 129 Beardsley St., Apt. 4 where she had been smoking marijuana. The girl, 17, said that several people were smoking drugs at that location. Dugan and Sgt. Chapman went to the Beardsley St. address and spoke with the resident there, Lisa Steele, WF, 21, 51", 155 pounds, brn/hazel. Steele denied that there were any drugs in her home and gave consent for a search. Reports state the search turned up several pills and a bag of marijuana. She was charged with simple possession.
March 23 T.B. Dugan responded to 235 Trotter Dr. where Joseph Smith reported the theft of several hundred dollars worth of tools from the location where he was building a house.
March 21 B. K. Baxter was dispatched to 17 Breazeale St. where David Johnson reported that someone had slashed three tires on his truck. The damage was estimated at $400.
March 22 M. J. McClatchy responded to Big Creek Baptist Church where Mitch Gambrell reported that someone had stolen parts from the churchs air conditioning unit. The loss was estimated at $15,000.
March 23 A. Land was dispatched to 1113 Beaverdam Rd. where Alan Burgess, Jr. reported that Matthew Fullbright, WM, 29, 62", 232 pounds, of Belton, had asked to borrow some gas money from Burgess in front of the Malibu Sports Bar in Williamston. When Burgess took $20 from an envelope, he said that Fullbright took the entire envelope containing $660 and drove off. Land reported that attempts to speak to Fullbright at his home were unsuccessful.
March 14 M. Voigt was dispatched to 209 Murphy Rd. where Wayne Simmons reported that he had been assaulted and $700 stolen from him. Simmons later declined to file charges and withdrew his complaint.
March 14 W.B. Simpson responded to 1506 Pinson Farm Rd. where Bobby Burkett reported that his son, Jerry Burkett, WM, 40, had taken his 1979 black Ford F-150 truck without his permission. He had been given permission to drive the truck to and from work only.
March 14 J.T. Foster responded to 2818 Hwy. 252 where John Alley reported the theft of his 2001 Polaris 4 wheeler, valued at $2000.
March 15 - D. Smith was dispatched to 102 Hibiscus Dr. where John Cox reported the theft of his 2007 Tomberlin FireFox go cart. The loss was estimated at $1200.
March 14 D. Hill was dispatched to 825 Joe Black Rd. where Terry Holcombe reported the theft of a checkbook from his vehicle.
March 15 J.T. Bowers was dispatched to 3 Goodrich St. where Harold Reeves reported that someone had broken into two vehicles in his yard. Losses were minimal, but vehicles at 4 Goodrich St. and 6 Goodrich St. were also broken into.
March 15 W.E. Gregory responded to 12 Green Street where Curtis Jackson reported that he heard loud arguing outside
Gregory arrived to find Angela Simmons, WF, 30, 52", 144 pounds outside screaming and cursing loudly. He observed her to be unsteady on her feet and to smell strongly of alcohol. He tried to quiet her but she continued to curse and scream and she was arrested for breach of peace.
March 15 M. Voigt responded to 119 Hampton Rd. where Danny Ford reported that someone had broken into his car and stolen a HiPoint 9 mm handgun valued at $150.
March 16 R.D. Smith investigated two apparently related incidents on Osteen Hill Rd. He responded to 238 Osteen Hill Rd. where Rocky Ingram told him that he had been at a friends house in Pelzer and had gotten into an argument with a man there. The man drew a gun and threatened to shoot him. Returning home later the next morning, Ingram found eight bullet holes in his residence in the area between his two bedroom windows. He also found a white Chevy pickup truck stuck in the ditch in front of his neighbors house. The tire tracks indicated the truck had been in Ingrams yard before getting stuck. Ingram said the man he argued with had been driving the truck earlier that evening. The trucks tag proved to have been stolen from West Pelzer, while the truck itself had been stolen from Greenwood County.
From March 18 meeting
By Stan Welch
Paving and politics were the main topics at a meeting of the Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission held Tuesday, March 18.
The Commission, charged with establishing a prioritized list of capital projects to be funded by the proposed one cent sales tax, listened as a procession of mayors, town administrators and County Council members appeared to present the list of projects they wanted funded in their respective areas.
Honea Path Mayor Lollis Meyers spoke to the Commission, outlining a variety of projects. He expressed his original preference that the funds generated by the tax be spent solely on roads and bridges.
But in order to insure that the money is equally distributed among the seven Council districts, I see where some other types of projects could be included. Meyers list included improvements to Hwy. 252, in the amount of $850,000, with an additional $650,000 in paving to existing roads also listed. Additional investments in the recreation center at the old Hammett School, restoring the old City Hall, adding a bay to the fire station and additional work at the community center quickly brought the Honea Path total to $2.5 million.
Additional projects could be delineated by the Council member whose district the various municipalities are located in.
Commission Chairman David Jones agreed with Meyers preference, saying that he once wanted all the funds spent on roads and bridges.
But as I learned more about this tax and the needs around the county, I began to realize that it takes a lot of spokes to keep a wheel turning. Economic development is clearly affected by infrastructure like roads and sewer, but large companies also look at quality of life issues. If they see inadequate fire and emergency facilities, or poor recreational facilities, they may very well look elsewhere for a place to locate. Thats why I have changed my view on just using these funds for roads and bridges, though clearly those remain at the top of the list.
The Commission has a stated goal of allocating that amount to each of the various municipalities in the County, including Honea Path, Pendleton, Belton, and Williamston, which all contain approximately four thousand residents.
The smaller municipalities like West Pelzer and Pelzer are slated to receive amounts in the half million dollar range. Pelzer and West Pelzer would almost certainly apply those funds to addressing their ongoing wastewater issues.
The Commission clearly is determined to affect virtually every precinct in the county with one proposed project or the other. The political nature of the issue is not lost on the Commissioners, a fact they made obvious.
As each public official finished their presentation, one commissioner or the other asked them point blank if the projects presented would act to create support for the proposed tax.
The Commissioners also questioned McNair attorney Adam Artigliere, who is serving as legal counsel on the CPST issue, about whether the prioritized list of projects could be presented in a district by district format, to better convince the public that they would see real results more quickly.
If we show the East West connector in Anderson as the number one priority, what will people in another district think? asked Commissioner Bob Burriss. They will think that they get nothing until the connector is finished.
Artigliere explained that the projects, by law, must be listed on the referendum question in the order set by the Commission, without any geographical or political distinction being drawn. He also explained that if the County chooses to issue bonds against the projected revenues rather than expend the tax revenues as they become available, a number of projects could be initiated simultaneously.
Under no circumstances can you spend more than the $148 million anticipated to be produced by the tax. Nor can you spend ten million dollars on a project which is priced at nine million dollars on the referendum ballot. In other words, sharpen your pencil before you set the referendum question, because once it is set, it is set.
Commissioner Kirk Oglesby was concerned that the language of the minutes of the past meeting might lead some to believe that the Commission was committed to spending equal amounts in each of the seven Council Districts.
I dont believe that was our intention, but that is what the minutes read. It is impossible to commit to that, especially before we really begin the prioritization process. I agree that we want to try and reach every corner of the county but I see no way to make such a promise.
Despite the commissions consent to adjust the language of the minutes to reflect their desire to be fair, rather than a concrete requirement, it was clear from those who appeared before the Commission that just such an arrangement was established, in their calculations at any rate.
Both Councilmen Larry Greer and Michael Thompson stated their understanding that each district would receive approximately $21 million over the life of the tax, which is measured either by seven years or by reaching the $148 million threshold in revenues collected. At whichever milepost is reached first, the tax expires.
Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy appeared in support of a list of projects agreed upon by the Town Council. That list includes the Ida Tucker Road extension, several sidewalk projects near the schools, as well as sidewalks from Greenville Street to Hamilton Road. An extension of Mauldin Street to Minor Street was also on the list.
District Six Councilman Ron Wilson expressed his opinion that the tax would be a hard sell in his District. We have been neglected by the county for years and years. Without a full court press on this, I think it will be very rough sailing to pass this tax, Wilson said.
He did however provide a list of projects, centering around the Three Bridges Road and its arteries, which he says are clogged both morning and afternoon, as commuters who live in the Powdersville area travel to and from work.
Council Chairman Michael Thompson was asked by Burriss if the Council could be expected to support the referendum question. I think we will have four votes to approve placing the question on the referendum in November.
When Burriss expressed surprise that the Council vote wouldnt be unanimous, Wilson chimed in saying he would guarantee the vote would not be unified. He did not clarify whether he was pledging to oppose the tax or not.
By Stan Welch
Oh my! Joey Preston has gone two months past the date at which his annual job review should have taken place. What a joke! Two months? He hasnt had a job review in at least four years.
Thats right. The recent published reports about Prestons immunity to a review of his performance, which by the way is called for in his contract as well as county policy, failed to mention that Preston has received no job review in recent years. Larry Greer says when he gets enough bad job reviews, then Council will do something. I cant think of a better way to avoid bad job reviews than to have no job reviews. That sure lets Mr. Greer off the hook.
You know, you almost have to feel sorry for Mr. Greer. He just wants tobeleft alone to straddle the fence till after the June primary, but these issues keep coming up.
You might think the fact that Greers own political ally and supporter asking him to introduce additional safeguards on how sales tax monies would be administered, due to widespread public distrust of the Preston administration, might be a reason for a job review?
Michael Thompson says the Council could do the paperwork, but whats the point, since the majority of Council is happy with Prestons performance. Heres the point, Mr. Thompson. In fact, heres a couple points. One, County policy calls for written evaluations of Prestons performance to be conducted annually. County Council only has authority over two employees at this time, Preston and Clerk to Council Linda Edelmann. Is it too much paperwork to do a formal job review of these employees? And you wonder why so many voters feel that the Council has shirked its duties? Two job reviews? Why bother? What?
This is a classic example of Council declining, nay, refusing, to do its minimal duties. The refusal of Council to perform a periodic job review of someone who oversees a 122 million dollar budget makes it very hard to argue with those who say the Council, as it is currently configured, is redundant and unnecessary.
Another point is that some members of Council dont think that Preston is doing his job, and they have a right and a duty to say so. They think he spends too much money and does so without proper accounting methods. They think he squanders public money on events and activities that are not in the proper purview of government. These Council members are elected, just as the others are. They represent tens of thousands of citizens of the United States, the State of South Carolina and of Anderson County.
Bob Waldrep has repeatedly said that the issue is about the process, and not the personality. Well, the process, as established by policy, is for Preston to undergo an annual job review. If he had undergone one in 2006, just weeks before his stink operation (thats not a typo) at Caters Lake might have been avoided.
If such a review had taken place last year, perhaps a Council member could have cautioned Preston against the apparently profligate use of the County credit cards. Perhaps during such reviews, issues might arise, such as the administrators penchant for buying property first and telling Council later. The concept of a bidding procedure might even be raised during such an annual review.
A common sense of self satisfaction among the majority of Council is not sufficient reason to negate County policy. Joey Preston makes more money than the Governor of South Carolina. For his handpicked personal attorney to say that he is entitled to the same privacy that an employee in the private sector is entitled to is both absurd and illuminating.
So if his salary, which is seldom if ever reported, is public information, and it is, then wouldnt it seem to follow that the Councils formal opinion as to whether he is earning that salary would also be public?
Public record has its own value, and a large part of that value is that the elected officials have to answer for theirs at election time. If five members of Council fully approve of Prestons performance, let them sign the dotted line saying so. Let them step forward in May and defend their opinion of Prestons performance. Its called accountability, and in the absence of it as relates to hired personnel, it seems little enough to ask from those who seek our votes.
One last point, Mr. Thompson. If an employee has the approval and support of a majority of Council, wouldnt it seem to be the proper and professional thing to do to enter that in that employees work record? Who knows? One day Mr. Preston might be looking for a job and such glowing job reviews might be of value to him. Or is it destined that he retire here?
Seems to me, if I remember correctly, two years ago, Ms. Joeys entitled to his privacy Bloodgood produced an amended job review form/policy that allowed Preston to edit the Council members reviews. Thats right, folks. If a Council member makes a comment Mr. Preston doesnt like, he can edit it. With that kind of clout, why wouldnt he want a written review each year?
Man, its good to be king, isnt it?
Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy and The Town of Williamston are coordinating an open government tour that will travel by bus to Columbia on April 17.
Williamston officials will host the tour of the State Capitol including the State House grounds and the Governors Mansion complex.
Particiapants will meet with members of the local delegation including Senator Billy ODell, Representative Dan Cooper and Representative Michael Thompson for a behind the scenes look at our state government.
The tour which will include lunch and dinner, a leisurely walk down Main St. Columbia and visiting shops. Cost is only $25 (excluding meals)
Reservations should be made prior to the April 11 deadline. The trip is limited to 49 registrants organizers said.
The trip is open to persons over the age of 18. Children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
For more information call 864-847-7473.