News Archive

(1806) Week of May 3, 2006

Festival gets go ahead from town
Candidate forum Thursday
Voters should note poll changes
Town makes payment to IRS, votes to hire auditing firm
Town officials wrestling with police dispatch options
Capital projects dependent on sales tax, SIB
Piedmont Blue Devils to reunite
Preston responds to questions concerning landfill, lobbyist fees
Baccalaureate Service Sunday
Letter on town’s status is now available
Relay for Life this Friday
Deputies capture burglary suspect

Two charged in arson

The Letter

Festival gets go ahead from town

Williamston Town Council showed their support Monday by unanimously approving a request by the newly formed Williamston Springwater Committee, to hold the Spring Water Festival on August 26 in Williamston’s Mineral Spring Park.

A committee of approximately 13 to 15 volunteers will organize the 2006 festival which will celebrate the 25th year when it is held on Saturday, August 26. The committee is meeting weekly laying the groundwork for the annual event.

Spokesperson David Meade said the committee has already been chartered with the State and is seeking an IRS tax number for non-profit status. Meade will chair this year’s festival along with festival co-chair Steve Ellison. Local CPA Jimmy Barnes is helping with the necessary paperwork and is the organization’s treasurer. Other committee members include Barbara Davis, secretary; James Riddle, food; Ellen Harvell, crafts; Thomas Addison, artwork; Mark Pitts, souvenirs; Catlin Tierce, entertainment/gospel stage; Jack Ellenburg, bluegrass stage; Dianne Lollis, displays/entertainment. Applications for craft vendors were mailed out this week.  Local vendors who did not participate in the Spring Water Festival last year that are interested in displaying this year can contact Harvell at 847-5588. Food vendor applications are expected to be sent out this week to non-profit organizations that participated in the festival last year.

Anyone interested in helping with this year’s festival is invited to attend a meeting this Thursday, May 4, at 7 p.m. at the Williamston Fire Department.

 

Candidate forum Thursday

Men United of Williamston will sponsor a candidate forum featuring both candidates for Williamston Ward 2 Council seat.

Tim Williams and Marion Middleton Jr., will present their platforms and answer questions during the forum at the Caroline Community Center this Thursday, May 4 at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend.

Voters will go to the polls next Tuesday, May 9 to decide who will fill the seat left vacant following the resignation of former Councilman Cecil Cothran.

Voters should note poll changes

Williamston voters will go to the polls next Tuesday, May 9 to determine whether Tim Williams or Marion Middleton Jr., will serve on Town Council. The men are running to fill the Ward 2 seat left vacant by the resignation of former Williamston Councilman Cecil Cothran.

Persons planning to vote take note of the following changes:

The polling place for the Williamston Mill precinct will be held at the National Guard Armory. Seventeen registered voters who normally vote in the Cedar Grove precinct will also be voting at the Armory, according to Williamston Clerk Michelle Starnes.

Williamston city precinct voters who normally go to the Palmetto Middle School will vote in the auditorium of the Williamston Municipal Center, Starnes said. The precinct was moved from the school because of PACT testing underway at the school, officials said.

Starnes said the move was cleared with the Anderson County Election Board and the State Election Board. She also said a letter was sent to the Justice Department to inform them of the special circumstances.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. All registered voters in the town of Williamston are allowed to have a say in deciding who will represent Ward 2. Williamston Council positions are voted on at large. It is also a non partisan election. Persons planning to vote in the special election must have been registered for 30 days prior to May 9.

The winner will serve out the term of former councilman Cothran and the seat will be up for  reelection in the November general election along with the Ward 1 seat currently held by Councilman Greg Cole.

Next Saturday, May 13 is the final day to register to vote in the June 13 primary elections. 

For persons interested, a candidate forum featuring  Tim Williams and Marion Middleton, Jr. will be held at the Caroline Community Center this Thursday, May 4 at 6:30 p.m.

Both candidates are expected to present their platforms and answer questions. Men United of Williamston are sponsoring the forum. The public is invited to come hear the views of each candidate and to ask questions.

Town makes payment to IRS, votes to hire auditing firm

Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said Monday that the town has paid the Internal Revenue Service $200,000. The payment for delinquent withholdings of the town due to the IRS for 2005 was made with funds from the recent property auction. Town officials said they expect penalties associated with the delinquency to be abated by the department.

Clardy made the statement during the regular Monthly meeting of Council May 1. Accountant Bob Daniel reported that he had concluded  work on the town finances in preparation of turning it over to an auditor. He also recommended an auditor for the town.

He said the town’s financial statements show a $612,000 deficit, excluding any pending penalties which will amount to approximately $100,000 if not abated. Daniel said the figures also show a $17,000 loss for the water and sewer department.

Daniel, who has been working on the town’s financial status for several months, recommended Francis M. “Bud” Branyon, CPA of Anderson for the position of auditor for the town. Acting on a motion by Councilman Scott and a second by Councilman David Harvell, Council approved hiring Branyon 4-0.

Council then went into executive session to discuss contractural matters.

Upon returning to regular session, Council unanimously approved two resolutions.

Council approved allowing an extension on the closing date on certain properties that were sold at the recent auction.

Council also approved a resolution closing an old part of Ida Tucker Road which connects to Minor St. The road was approved for closure by Council in 1996 but had been reopened.

Clardy reported that the IRS obligation has been satisfied and the town paid  $200,000 to the IRS by cashiers check on Monday.

Council also decided to hold a work session this Wednesday, May 3 at 3 p.m.

Council unanimously approved a nomination of Olive Wilson to fill a vacancy on the election commission.

An appointment is yet to be made for a vacancy on the planning commission.

Council unanimously approved a request by the Williamston Springwater Committee, to hold the Spring Water Festival on August 26 in Williamston’s Mineral Spring Park. Representing the committee, David Meade said the committee has been chartered with the State and is seeking an IRS tax number for non-profit status. He said volunteers have stepped forward to help continue the festival and thanked Council for their support.

At the beginning of the meeting Council heard public comments from several residents.

Thomas Marshall asked about an expected increase in property taxes. Mayor Clardy responded that there has been no discussion yet about taxes though some suggestions have been made by accountants. Clardy also said that water bills were sent in envelopes because they were told the post office would not accept cards.

Kempie Shepard asked about the issue of a skate board park in Williamston. “”They need somewhere to go besides Pelzer and the sidewalks,” Shepard said.

She suggested the area in the park where the shuffleboard courts are located could be used for skateboarders. “Let’s stop talking about it and do something about it,” she said. After her remarks, Clardy made a motion to appoint Shepard chairperson on a skate board committee. The appointment was approved 4-0.

Shepard also said that a parent/ child event will be held in the park at shelter #8 on June 8. The event is sponsored by Strong Communities. She suggested other activities could be held in the park each Friday.

Carthel Crout said he has concerns about the town taking out a short term TAN note as opposed to a long term note. He thanked Joe Newton for his efforts, but has concerns about when he is gone. He also asked if the town had an auditor, paid the IRS. There was some discussion about the tree on Councilman Scott’s property.

ACOG representative Newton said he had asked several other municipalities what they would have done about a tree which was in a public right of way and could cause harm. He said they would have removed the tree unless it was on private property and would have fallen on private property. He said there has been an incident in which a tree fell and a municipality was sued.

Willie Wright asked about water bills and postal requirements and why there was no indication on the bills of the ward in which residents live. Wright also mentioned executive sessions being held during regular meetings.

Clardy responded that it would be a time consuming process to add wards to water bills. He also said that exectuive session are held during public meetings as required by state law.

Clardy said that items meant for Grand Isle, Louisiana,  may be taken to other municipalities that have a need.

Wright thanked council on behalf of residents whose property was taken off the property sale list.

The next meeting of Council will be a work session this Wednesday afternoon, May 3 at 3 p.m.

Town officials wrestling with police dispatch options

By Stan Welch

A pressing choice about whether to surrender the Williamston Police Department’s dispatch function to the County’s Central Dispatch service, or try to retain it occupied much of the budget work session held by Williamston Town Council Wednesday morning, April 26.

The demands of the dispatch service currently maintained by the WPD are taking a toll in the number of people required to assist, as well as the amount of overtime being worked by those people. So pressing is the situation that ACOG representative Joe Newton asked that a vote on the issue be added to the agenda for Wednesday’s work session. “The County has assured me that they will work with the Town in every way possible to make the transition as smooth as possible. But before (Emergency Services Director) Tommy Thompson goes to the County’s attorneys to have an agreement drawn up, he would like to see a verbal commitment from the Town Council that that’s the direction they’re headed in.”

Newton added that WPD Chief David Baker has to have a decision soon. Baker made it clear that he agrees. “We are at a crossroads,” said Baker. “We are down to fifteen personnel, and just lost one who quit. We are all working 12 hour shifts, and covering the dispatch duties is a big part of that. We’re racking up overtime, and there’s not much we can do about it as long as we are in this position.”

Baker added that there were two choices as far as he could see. “We can hire back people to handle the dispatching, or turn it over to Central Dispatch.” He conceded that four dispatchers would be needed to provide 24 hour service seven days a week. “that’s at approximately $24,000 per dispatcher in salary, plus benefits.”

The details of such an arrangement with the County have not been settled, but both Newton and Baker said that it will be very similar to the deal offered to Belton when it made the change not too long ago. “There will be a one time equipment expense of $12,200 so that the Town can continue to use its VHF radio system, which will save us a lot of money by not converting to the County’s system,” said Newton. In addition, the equivalent of a dispatcher’s salary would be paid by the Town. That would be approximately $28,000. That would be an annual expense, and it is that figure which needs to be formalized in order for the Town to know exactly what the costs would be.

“We don’t know the exact salary, but it will be very close to the $28,000 figure,” said Newton.

Mayor Phillip Clardy asked the Chief about the town’s prior investment in establishing and equipping the Town’s facilities. “How much of that investment will be rendered pointless if we turn this over to the county?” he asked. “I’m undecided. To tell the truth, I would like to see the pros and cons in writing. We do have quite an investment in that facility, and we need to think about what is best for our citizens.”

He expressed his concerns about the potential cost of returning to the Town’s system at a future date. He added that he would be willing to vote for a request for a proposal from the County, asking for the “dime and dollar on this.” Councilman Otis Scott asked for the cost of two dispatchers who are not necessarily Class One certified police officers. He also stated that he favored keeping the service under the Town’s control “if there’s any way possible.”

Clardy stressed, “I am not procrastinating on this matter, but I would like to be able to respond to critic and supporter alike that I made my decision based on something besides ‘That’s what I was told’”.

The Council finally decided to ask for more details from the County and from Chief Baker, who was instructed to provide more details by the next budget session.

Another topic of some concern was the draft of what is referred to as “The Letter.” That letter was one promised by Joe Newton soon after he began working with the Town on their financial problems. While many citizens anticipated the letter assigning blame and indicating what, if any, misconduct had taken place, Newton has always maintained that it was designed to acknowledge the Town’s problems, provide particulars about the situation, and explain what was being done to correct them.

Newton has stated that he felt those purposes had been achieved by the public’s general awareness of the situation. “I frankly thought the issues were moot, since everyone in town seemed to know what the situation was,” he said at least week’s budget session.

Wednesday, Newton presented the council members with a draft of the letter for their approval and modification, prior to it being distributed at next Monday’s council meeting.

Newton also informed the Council that the IRS had requested a certified check from the town for $200,000. Newton explained that that was actually encouraging news. “That is the amount currently owed with penalties abated. It is a slight indication that they may be planning to abate an additional $100,000 in penalties. That is in no way certain. Do not spend that money. Just because the hole may not be as deep as it was doesn’t mean you’re not still in a hole,” he added. “There is nothing to celebrate at this time.”

County capital projects dependent on sales tax, SIB

By Stan Welch

Having obtained little or no solid information concerning the State Infrastructure Bank’s (SIB) willingness or ability to help fund three major road projects, the Anderson County Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission decided to roll the dice, all or nothing. They made it clear, however, that they would settle for just about anything in between.

Faced with a choice of presenting the County Council with a referendum question concerning a proposed $.01 sales tax based on the anticipated receipt of a $150 million grant from the SIB, or with a referendum question reflecting the receipt of no money whatsoever from the SIB, the Commission found a third choice.

The Commission will present the Council with two choices. One will assume the receipt of the $150 million grant, a figure that has been bandied about since the Commission’s inception. Should that amount be received, the three major projects would be funded, with an additional $50 million to be used for local projects.

Should the SIB Board provide no grant funds at all, the referendum question would essentially seek to pass the sales tax anyway, drop the three major projects from consideration, and extend the list of local projects from the current short list of priority projects to a much longer list of some 40 or more proposals.

The problem of deciding which approach to take has been exacerbated by the SIB Board’s decision not to meet again until after the General Assembly adjourns for the summer. That decision leaves the Commission with no clear indication of how much money, if any, will be made available for the County’s plans.

Bob Ferrell, a consultant with Wilbur Smith Inc., said that the Board’s decision to wait until the end of the legislative session could be a hopeful sign. “That may mean that they are expecting the SIB to receive funding in the state budget, and are waiting to see what they will have to work with.”

Several scenarios seem to be floating around. One would see Anderson County receiving the full $150 million for which they have applied. Under that scenario, the widening of Highways 24, 76 and 247 would all be possible. The County would pay approximately $83.5 million in matching funds, leaving approximately $48 million from the projected $131 million in sales tax revenues to be used on local projects.

That list would include approximately 8 local projects, which the Commission has already prioritized.

Other scenarios include grants of $100 million, $50 million, or nothing at all. While the Commission made it clear that they will accept any amount they get, it was decided to persist in their quest for the original amount applied for. “Let’s not give the SIB an easy out,” said Rutt Riddle. “We applied for $150 million, and that is what we need to do these projects.”

Anderson County Transportation Director Holt Hopkins again expressed his disappointment in the SIB’s failure to provide the Commission with the information it needs. “We were told we would get an answer in February, and we clearly did not. Now, time is running out and there’s going to be another delay in receiving the information.”

Commission Chairman Rusty Burns stressed that he did not want to leave any money on the table. “Ronnie Townsend told me that he thinks we’ll get no less than $100 million. I wouldn’t want anyone to get the impression that we wouldn’t take that money in a heartbeat.”

Ferrell added that he had received similar information from Townsend, a long time member of the SIB board. “Ronnie Townsend is a major player on that board, due to his long service. His decision not to seek reelection this year should have no impact on his clout on that board.”

A scenario providing partial funding would involve scaling back on projects, a plan that would be complicated by the fact that the SIB would likely insist that the Hwy. 24 project be funded first. That would allow the widening of the Hwy. 76 and 247 corridors only to the Greenville County line, and not all the way to Hwy. 25, as is currently planned.

Should the SIB decline any funding, the Commission’s recommendation would be to pass the sales tax and use the $131 million projected to be raised over the seven year life of the tax to construct local projects, allowing for many more of those to be done than the eight which would be funded under the original application. “Our charge was to address the road and infrastructure needs of the county. If we don’t get any funds from the state, we can still try and pass this tax and take care of some of those needs ourselves,” said Jim Harris.

Regardless of which recommendation is approved by Council, if either is, bonded indebtedness will play a part in accelerating the construction process. “It is important that folks see the results as early as possible,” said Hopkins. “The use of bonded indebtedness always helps speed up these projects.”

Piedmont Blue Devils to reunite

A special invitation only reunion of the Piedmont High School basketball teams will be held at the Piedmont Community Building this Saturday, May 6 at 6 p.m.

The reunion will be held in the Rowell Room of the Community Building. Attendees are expected to bounce a few balls and even shoot some foul shots in the gym.

“Bouncing basketballs certainly won’t be as easy for us now since we’re all 60+ years old, but we’re going to give it a try, plus a few foul shots,” said Martha Grigsby of Clemson, one of the reunion organizers.

Door prizes and games will be a part of the celebration following a dinner catered by Marian Martin of Circle M Barbecue.

More than 90 former players, coaches and teachers are expected to attend, some from as far away as Washington state.

Piedmont historian Don Roper provided this brief history of the Piedmont Blue Devils Basketball from 1952 to 1962.

Piedmont High School Blue Devil Basketball -

By Don Roper

The last decade of Piedmont High School Blue Devil basketball saw some good results, although there were no state championships.

The 1952 boys team has the second-best overall record in Piedmont High history, but lost in the state championship game after 25 consecutive victories. 

Sparking the team was Carroll “Rock” Stone, who scored over 400 points during the season. That year also saw the most famous shot in Blue Devil lore, Carroll Emery’s heave from past mid-court as the horn sounded, that got the team to Columbia for the finals. Coach J. H. “Hoss” Nesbitt ended his coaching career at Piedmont with 101 wins.

The 1953 boys lost to Slater in the District 10 finals. In 1954 the team got to the upper state playoffs before losing. J. W.  “Jiggs” Woodcock was the coach for these two seasons with Joe Hiott and Carroll Emery as the top players. Another appearance in the District 10 finals highlighted the 1955 season, coached by Hal Hall.

1956 saw another of the great Blue Devil twosomes, as Roger Dill and “Choppy” Patterson poured in the points to get to the District finals.

In 1957, Doug Emery put on some courageous battles after Patterson was injured, with the team getting to the upper state playoffs before losing.

Coach Marion Middleton led the Blue Devils to one last try in Columbia before losing to Olympia in the state semifinals in 1958.

The rest of the decade saw the attendance area cut with the Anderson County students going their separate ways and the Blue Devils faded away.

On the girls’ side of the court, things were never as successful as far as championships go, but they always put up a scrappy performance, usually coming up with an upset or two each year.

1952 and ’53 saw them come on  strong in the latter part of the season, only to come up short in the District tournaments.

During 1954 and ’55 things were not so good until the tournament, when Avenelle Emery led the team to a victory before becoming powerhouse Mauldin’s 46th straight victory in the semis of 1955.

Annie Fowler led the girls to a couple of big wins in 1956, but they again faltered in tournament play.

In 1959 the girls won one of the few ever over Ellen Woodside as Bobbie Jean Lindley hit 40 points. Later she hit 39 as they beat Slater, and 25 as they won their first tournament game before losing the finals to Tamassee.

1960 and ’61 saw Emogene Turner and Anne Mullikin leading the scorers, but details and records are sketchy for this time period. Winning their last game in 1961 was their highlight.

As with the boys, when Anderson County split, the Blue Devils fell on hard times, and soon ole Piedmont High was no more.

Preston responds to questions concerning landfill, lobbyist fees

By Stan Welch

Following a public hearing in which less than a half dozen citizens spoke, the Anderson County Council gave second reading approval to the proposed budget as presented by County Administrator Joey Preston.

One of those who addressed the budget was Foothills Alliance Executive Director Fay Brown, whose organization was informed earlier in the day that no funding would be forthcoming from the County in the upcoming budget.

Brown, whose organization offers services to abused children, made a strong case for funding, saying that the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office benefits from the services provided by the Alliance. “We take a large load off of the Sheriff’s department by conducting forensic interviews with abuse victims and by seeing victims at our sexual trauma center.”

She expressed her gratitude for the Council’s past support, usually in the form of an annual $20,000 contribution. But she added, “Could you find an additional $10,000 out of a budget of more than $100 million.  All the statistics and studies show that victims of sexual and child abuse will reappear in the system. The less help they get now, the more they need later. This lack of funding is simply cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Council apparently agreed, and Chairman Greer asked Preston to coordinate a meeting between the Sheriff’s Department, the Solicitor’s Office and the Magistrates, all of whom had increased their requests for funding. Those increases depleted the victim’s assistance fund from which the Alliance’s usual allocation is drawn.

Before the Council voted on the budget, Preston and financial analyst Gina Humphries presented a fifteen minute power point presentation which attacked three recent articles in the Times Examiner, a conservative weekly publication which consistently criticizes and questions Preston’s administration of the County.

District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson asked a number of questions, including some concerning the use of a lobbying firm to seek federal funds for roads and bridges. Chairman Greer suggested that she submit those questions in writing to Mr. Preston, but Preston insisted on answering several of them in open session.

He responded to the lobbyist questions by saying that AnMed had paid for services rendered by Preston Gates & Ellis by paying $93,500 to the County for their share of the benefits obtained. Those benefits included funds for use on a project called the East Reed Road extension. The $93,500 was described in the invoice, which Preston supplied to Wilson, as a ‘success fee’, or essentially a commission. The fee, by law, can not be paid from federal funds.

The success fee is clearly described in a letter dated March 8, 2005, as being equivalent to 6% of any federal funds earmarked for Anderson County as a result “due in whole or in substantial part to efforts by PGERM.” Based on that formula, the amount obtained by the county for AnMed would be approximately $1.5 million, although none of the invoices or correspondence involved indicate the cost of the East Reed Road project.

Preston also responded to a question by Wilson concerning an attachment to the Big Creek landfill sales contract described in that contract as schedule 22. That schedule, according to Wilson, defines the royalty fee paid to Claude Graham, who brokered the sale between the County and Allied Waste Inc. in 1997.

Preston said that the document simply doesn’t exist, and that it is mistakenly mentioned in the contract. “I cannot pass along something to you which doesn’t exist. I’m sorry, but I just can’t”, said Preston. “When we renegotiate that contract, we’ll remove that error from it.” The contract has ten years remaining on its life.”

In a deposition given on March 20, 2002, Graham acknowledged such a royalty contract, although not by the title of schedule 22. He stated that the royalty was based on the tonnage that is received each year by the Allied Regional Landfill, but could not recall the amount per ton which he receives.  

Several Council members expressed concern that the county’s employees are not receiving a cost of living increase. “I am concerned that we will begin losing good people if this trend continues,” said Councilman Bill McAbee.”

Chairman Greer stated that he is always concerned with millage at budget time. “If the millage stays the same, and all other things are equal, the vehicle tax ratchet down is actually a tax cut for the people.” He also announced that a budget workshop will be held on May 12, from 9 a.m. till noon . The location of the budget workshop will be announced.

Baccalaureate Service Sunday

Baccalaureate Service for Palmetto High School seniors will be held this Sunday, May 7 at 7 p.m.

Elizabeth Hope Plott will welcome guests. Jessica Ann Vinson will give the invocation.

Jordan Elaine Jackson will lead the congregational hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.”

Jennifer Shay Chapman will read scripture from Ecclesiastes 3. Joseph Carson Phillips will lead prayer.

The Palmetto High Chorus will have a special musical presentation, “Be Still and Know” (Steven Curtis Chapman).

Jessica Shay Jeanes will introduce the speaker, Rev. Mark Roberts, Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church. Roberts  message will be “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Eva Nicloe Bush will pronounce the benediction.

Wren High School Baccalaureate Service information was not available at press time.PHS

Letter on town’s status is now available

If you haven’t heard or read about the poor financial status and other problems facing the Town of Williamston, a letter promised in January is now available to citizens. The letter was promised to Williamston residents by Mayor Phillip Clardy as details of the town’s poor financial status came to light in mid January.

At that time, Clardy said that the town was taking steps necessary to bring the financial crisis under control. According to Clardy, that included 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 were to be detailed in a letter from him and town council which Clardy said would be sent to town residents “in the next two weeks.”

Considerable discussion was held during weekly meetings and related coverage provided by The Journal, though no letter was sent out. ACOG representative Joe Newton, who is helping the town through the financial mess, said that the letter was not sent out because he and town officials thought the public discussion and news coverage had been sufficient.

The matter of the promised letter has been an issue with several of the town’s residents during the last three months. The letter highlighting the town’s financial situation is now available for the public, but due to the cost of postage, will not be mailed out, Newton said. Complete copies of the letter are avaible at the Williamston Municipal Center for anyone interested in obtaining one.

Highlights of the letter are as follows:

It begins with the mayor and council accepting full responsibility for what happened and for the decisions to solve the problems.

It states the town is not broke or bankrupt,  however it states the town owes a lot of money to a lot of vendors and government agencies.

It also states,  “We have spent too much money.  Our recent expenses, staffing and services exceeded the amount of money we had in the bank.  In January, we very nearly missed meeting weekly employee payrolls and since then we have been unable to pay some of our bills in a timely fashion.

We have no cash reserves.  Over time, we should have been building cash “rainy day”/ emergency reserves in the Town General fund and in the Water/Sewer utility fund.  We should have set aside a significant amount of our revenues to build and maintain a substantial reserve.  We failed to do so. 

For many years, the Town has made a practice of borrowing from next year’s taxes to pay this year’s expenses.  We have long made a habit of borrowing through Tax Anticipation (TAN) notes, General Obligation (GO) Bonds and in the last two years Bond Anticipation (BAN) notes.  Rather than cutting expenses and raising revenues, we borrowed.  We finally borrowed more than we could reasonably pay back.

Our sewer facilities are old and SC DHEC regulations have increased.  Our wastewater expenses on our aging system are already high and now we will have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet these new standards.  We have no choice, but to seek grants and borrow again to update our wastewater facilities and lines.

We did not enact an operating budget at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2006.  We are currently operating on a “carryover” (last year’s) budget, a practice commonly used by the U.S. Government and some fiscally distressed towns and counties in South Carolina.  This is very unfortunate.  We need a good, balanced operating budget as soon as possible.

Our Town auditor resigned last Fall.  Before he left, the auditor issued a “Going concern” statement in the Town’s 2004 and 2003 fiscal audits.  Such an auditor’s statement means that the Town is in such poor financial condition that it will not likely be able to continue operating, providing services and paying bills unless it initiates immediate and dramatic changes.  We also need a new auditor and a new audit report for Fiscal Year 2005.

Throughout 2005, the Town of Williamston bordered on financial insolvency.  In December, 2005 the Town hired an accountant (Bob Daniel) to close out the Town’s annual accounts and advise the Town Council on accounting issues.  In early January 2006, the Town also requested assistance from Appalachian Council of Governments (ACOG), a South Carolina Regional Planning Agency, to work with Council and staff in resolving a number of financial and management issues.

The letter goes on to list steps taken to resolve the financial crisis. 

Read the entire letter

Relay for Life this Friday

Palmetto High School teacher Jeff Boozer  is camping out on the roof of the school, not for fun, but for donations for the Belton-Honea Path-Williamston Relay for Life Event being held this Friday at BHP High School.

The 12 hour event will kick off with a cancer survivors walk begining at 7 p.m. All area cancer survivors are invited to attend. Last year more than 100 survivors participated.

Boozer challenged Palmetto students to raise at least $150 per day, for the Relay for Life event, and as long as they do, he said he will stay on the roof of the school.

Monday students raised approximately $150 and Tuesday $257. Boozer said as long as they meet the challenge of $150 each day, he will remain on the roof. The proceeds will go to the Relay for Life event being held at Belton-Honea Path High School this Friday.

So far he has stayed two nights, camped out on the roof with a tent and other items necessary to make it through the night.

Boozer said he climbs onto the roof around 3:30 p.m. and stays until around 7:45 a.m., when he comes down to teach his classes.

The school has a goal of raising $15,000. As of Monday, they had received $10,000 in donations.

Team members are still accepting donations and items can be purchased including luminaries (paper bags containing a candle) for $10 in honor of or in memory of loved ones with cancer, signs for $50 to advertise a business or remember or honor loved ones and Floor mat with ACR Relay for Life logo for $30.

For more information or to purchase an item, call Cyndy Epting at Palmetto High School at 847-7311 or Brenda Chapman (Cushman team) at 221-5916

A number of Palmetto students and faculty will be participating in the fundraising event for the American Cancer Society.

The event features a luminary service and sobering memorials and a celebration of those who have fought and won against cancer, organizers said. It also includes fun, food and music and socializing. The schedule includes a silent auction, a womanless beauty contest, kids’ games, entertainment, karaoke and line dancing.

Last year’s goal of $115,000 was reached by 10 p.m. on Friday. Over the last six years, more than $500,000 has been raised, with all the proceeds going to the American Cancer Society for research, education and service to help people in their battle against cancer.

Deputies capture burglary suspect

Anderson and Greenville County deputies responded to a situation which began Monday evening with a  911 call concerning an attempted burglary and assault at 115 Brookview  Circle, Pelzer . When deputies responded a suspect identified as Robert Baldwin 31, fled on an All Terrain Vehicle. As he was fleeing the scene he fired a shot at a deputy and the deputy returned fire. Neither was injured. The search for the suspect continued throughout the night with a K-9 unit and a helicopter from the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office. Baldwin was captured shortly after 7 a.m. Monday morning after he had wrecked his 4 wheeler in a creek portion of the Saluda River. He then entered the water and traveled on foot approximately 30 yards. He was treated at the Greenville Memorial hospital and transported back to the Anderson County Detention Center where he will be booked on several charges. Baldwin will face charges of petit larceny, assault and battery with intent to kill (he assaulted his father during the burglary attempt, and first degree  burglary. Baldwin is also a registered sex offender.

Two charged in arson

On April 25, two area men turned themselves in to the Anderson County Detention Center in connection with the arson of a barn a week earlier.

Robert Barnhill, 18, WM, of 735 Cherokee Road, and Michael Harris, 18,WM, of 713 Dean Springs Rd. in Belton, surrendered after warrants for them were signed. The two were charged with arson. Both have since been released, though ACDC records do not indicate the circumstances of their releases.

According to the incident report filed by responding Officer Deputy J.R. Sutherland, he arrived at the scene on Ballard Road to find the barn destroyed by fire. Four trucks from the West Pelzer Fire Department, as well as a couple of units from the Piercetown Department responded. WPFD Chief Dale Mahaffey said that the barn was fully involved when his department arrived. He said he considered the fire suspicious for a couple of reasons, including the fact that there was no power to the barn, and nothing inside to feed a fire. “We usually try to determine if a fire is suspicious. This one was, so we called for the arson investigator.”

Anderson County Arson Investigator Gary Beam investigated and determined the fire to be arson. He could not be reached for further information concerning his investigation.

The Anderson County Solicitor’s Office said that third degree arson is a class E felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years.

The Letter

To the Citizens of Williamston
Dear Friends and Neighbors:
As you well know, the Town of Williamston is in the midst of its most serious financial crisis in recent years.  We are in debt and we are struggling to meet our obligations to our citizens, employees and our creditors.  We are making some progress in resolving these problems, but we have a long way to go.

First of all, we, the Mayor and Council, accept full responsibility for what has happened, and we accept full responsibility for the difficult decisions to be made in order to solve these problems.  We could have done a much better job in recognizing our financial weaknesses from the start and we should have acted much sooner to begin correcting them. 

The purpose of this letter is to bring you up-to-date with our current situation.  We are facing numerous challenges and we plan to deal with them.  First, a brief summary of our many problems, some recent, some longstanding:

1. We are not “broke” or bankrupt.  However, we owe a lot of money to a lot of vendors and government agencies.  We are in debt to the Internal Revenue Service, the South Carolina’s Treasurer’s Office, the South Carolina Retirement System, the South Carolina Department of Revenue, a bank and a number of private vendors.

2. We have spent too much money.  Our recent expenses, staffing and services exceeded the amount of money we had in the bank.  In January, we very nearly missed meeting weekly employee payrolls and since then we have been unable to pay some of our bills in a timely fashion.

3. We have no cash reserves.  Over time, we should have been building cash “rainy day”/ emergency reserves in the Town General fund and in the Water/Sewer utility fund.  We should have set aside a significant amount of our revenues to build and maintain a substantial reserve.  We failed to do so. 

4. For many years, the Town has made a practice of borrowing from next year’s taxes to pay this year’s expenses.  We have long made a habit of borrowing through Tax Anticipation (TAN) notes, General Obligation (GO) Bonds and in the last two years Bond Anticipation (BAN) notes.  Rather than cutting expenses and raising revenues, we borrowed.  We finally borrowed more than we could reasonably pay back.

5. Our sewer facilities are old and SC DHEC regulations have increased.  Our wastewater expenses on our aging system are already high and now we will have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet these new standards.  We have no choice, but to seek grants and borrow again to update our wastewater facilities and lines.

6. We did not enact an operating budget at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2006.  We are currently operating on a “carryover” (last year’s) budget, a practice commonly used by the U.S. Government and some fiscally distressed towns and counties in South Carolina.  This is very unfortunate.  We need a good, balanced operating budget as soon as possible.

7. Our Town auditor resigned last Fall.  Before he left, the auditor issued a “Going concern” statement in the Town’s 2004 and 2003 fiscal audits.  Such an auditor’s statement means that the Town is in such poor financial condition that it will not likely be able to continue operating, providing services and paying bills unless it initiates immediate and dramatic changes.  We also need a new auditor and a new audit report for Fiscal Year 2005.

Throughout 2005, the Town of Williamston bordered on financial insolvency.  In December, 2005 the Town hired an accountant (Bob Daniel) to close out the Town’s annual accounts and advise the Town Council on accounting issues.  In early January 2006, the Town also requested assistance from Appalachian Council of Governments (ACOG), a South Carolina Regional Planning Agency, to work with Council and staff in resolving a number of financial and management issues.

During the past four months, the Mayor and Council have conducted numerous public meetings and have taken and will be taking a number of important steps to resolve the financial crisis: 

1. The Town will be enacting a balanced budget within the next thirty to forty days.  Expenses have been severely cut.  Revenues have been increased to pay debts and establish a small cash reserve.  The budget period will cover January – December 2006.  A public hearing will be conducted before the budget will be passed.  The Town will eventually change its fiscal year from the current January- December to July – June.

2. The 2006 budget does not contain a property tax increase.  However, a tax increase will be recommended for the 2007 budget, and if enacted by Council, the millage will be reflected on tax notices sent out this October.  Any tax increase will require a public hearing before passage.  The recommended tax increase will be used to pay off some remaining debts and will be used to build a much needed cash reserve.  If Council passes a 2007 tax increase, Council will also consider a decrease in the monthly sanitation fee.

3. The Town will likely borrow additional money this summer through a short term Tax Anticipation Note (TAN).  The TAN will be paid back before April 15, 2007 from 2007 taxes.  Municipalities without cash reserves are often forced to borrow through TAN’s in the second half of the year as revenues slow down.  If the Town had reserves, this might not be necessary.  The Town must build a cash reserve to break its annual borrowing cycle.

4. The Town conducted a land auction selling a large number of publicly owned parcels.  The Town will receive approximately $475,000, all of which will be applied to debts.  At least $200,000 will go to the Internal Revenue Service, approximately $109,000 will go to the Regions Bank for an early payment of the outstanding $350,000 Bond Anticipation Note and the remainder will be paid to the SC Department of Revenue, the SC Retirement System, and the SC Treasurer’s Office.  The sale proceeds are not sufficient to pay all debts.

5. The Mayor and Council have voluntarily forfeited their pay and benefits for the remainder of 2006 (March-December). Salaries will be reviewed in 2007.

6. Approximately a third of the Town’s workforce was laid off.  Employee medical benefits have been reduced by having deductibles increased to $1,250 per employee.  All Town departments have been affected and some services have been reduced.

7. Town salaries have been frozen and vacated positions may not be filled without a majority vote of Council.

8. Fees and rates have been increased.  Water and Sewer rates have been increased by 20%, Business Licenses by 30% and a new $14 per month sanitation fee was initiated.  Sanitation fees must be maintained in a separate account and may only be used for sanitation-related expenses.

9. The Town has had much difficulty hiring an auditor.  The Town is negotiating now and will likely have someone hired in the next two weeks.  The Town hired an accountant, Mr. Bob Daniel, to close out last year’s financial books and to give Town officials some much needed reports and summaries.  Mr. Daniel‘s work will be given to the new auditor to help expedite the completion of the 2005 audit.  The final 2005 audit should be ready in May or early June (the Town typically receives its audits anytime from April – June).

We, as a community, will work through these problems.  The Town will continue to provide the services and support you demand and deserve.  Most importantly, we must work with you to ensure that we never let ourselves get in this kind of trouble again. 

We ask for your help and patience in the next few months in doing what is best for our community. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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