News Archive

(2007) Week of May 16, 2007

Old City Hall building gone, but memories remain
“Willkommen Bruder” - “Welcome Brother.”
Town awarded paving C funds
The time is here for graduates
Kelly running for West Pelzer mayor
Paxton hopes to continue service as West Pelzer mayor
New accounting system now running in West Pelzer
Controversial road fee voted down
Road fee would go to pay salariesIf approved
Waldrep suggests hiring auditor to report to Council
Saluda River Catfish band to honor early musicians 
Seems to Me . . . The winds are blowing

 

Old City Hall building gone, but memories remain

Last week, a historic landmark in the town of Williamston was torn down. 

While several citizens stopped to watch the demolition of the 92 year old structure, Kathleen Powell, the town’s first female city clerk to work in the building,  watched intently off and on over the two days it took to level the building.

Powell drove up from Atlanta with her husband to record the historic event on  film.

While she stood watching the walls and roof being torn down, she recounted memories associated with growing up in the town in her childhood years and then working in the building.

When asked what she was feeling while watching the second day of demolition, Powell struggled to hold back tears.

“Lots of memories,” she said. “No bad memories, just so many that were positive.”

Powell was hired in 1938 as an assistant to Cooley B. King, the town clerk and treasurer.

The Country was still in the depression and she was offered  a part time job at the town hall.

“The government would pay part of my salary,” she said.

When Cooley was drafted for the war, Powell was appointed town clerk.

Powell recounted how the electric and phone bills could be paid at the town hall. She said she received an additional $3 a week to accept the phone payments and $2 a month for electric payments in addition to her $75 a month in salary.

She said her strongest feelings were that it couldn’t be saved and that the town was losing a part of its history.

“A part of history has been destroyed,” she said. “If you don’t know where you came from, you probably won’t know where you are going.”

Powell said that Williamston was different from many upstate towns which were founded on the textile industry. Though textiles played a big part in the towns prosperity later on, the town was founded on tourism.

“It didn’t begin around textiles,” she said. “It was the mineral spring. That heritage made this an unusual town,” Powell said.

Another area resident with historical ties to the town,  Connie Barnwell also had stopped to watch the demolition. Barnwell is a descendant of the town’s founder, West Allen Williams.

“With out the spring we would not be the prosperous town that we are,” she added.

Powell recounted moving from rental house to rental house as a small child in Williamston.

The Gray Place, The Cottier House, The Colyer House. None of the structures exist today, but at the time they were prominent structures, known by their owners names. Many took on boarders.

The Colyer house stood on the property next to the Lander property on Gossett St., she said.

During her service, prisoners were kept inside the city hall. The fire truck was kept  next to city hall where the town’s old jail eventually was.

The town’s 1936 fire truck brings memories for Powell.

“Volunteer firemen were paid $1,” she said. “They would take the truck out and drive it around on their lunch hour to charge the battery.” Often she would accept the offer of a ride on the fire truck from one of the volunteers to her typing class across town.

She said one day she was being funny, leaning against the fire truck and someone took her picture.

Years later the picture found its way into a book authored by historian Gene Welborn, “A Town Springs Forth.”

The picture also hangs on the wall of the Williamston Fire Department.

Powell attended a recent Spring Water Festival and had her picture taken leaning against the restored fire truck just as she had years ago.

 The firetruck was restored by Williamston firemen and is available for rides during the festival and other special events.

When demolition of the town hall building was delayed the first day while machinery was being worked on, Powell said she visited old friends and visited the town’s historic cemetery.

She recounted a famous orchestra leader from Williamston, Danny Ferguson, who is buried in the cemetery. Ferguson had one of the most popular orchestras in the Country and directed CBS’ band of the year in 1951.

Powell said she has an old recording of the musician.

“The cemetery looks fantastic,” she said, complimenting work done by the town and the Williamston Cemetery Committee.

As the old wooden roof structure was brought down, the smell of pine filled the air. Powell stood watching the demolition with a camera in hand.

Contractor Joel Hammond said that the brick was being sent to be used in new construction in Louisiana. 300 brick sare to be saved by the town to be sold as souvenirs, Hammond said.

Hammond volunteered his efforts to demolish and remove the structure only for what he could salvage.

Powell said she wanted a souvenir from the remains of the building and waited intently as the building came down.

She also wanted a piece of wood she planned to use in her flower garden in Atlanta.

She wanted to have her picture made sitting on the rubble but the heavy equipment was still working on the site.

Before leaving to return to Atlanta, Powell posed in front of the demolished building with her souvenir brick and piece of wood for one last photo.

By Friday, the building was a pile of rubble and the large oak trees that had stood on the site for years had been cut down.

A time capsule buried at the site remains there and will be removed soon, according to Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy.

The capsule will be relocated to the Municipal Center Complex where it will be reburied, along with the Sesquicentennial Time Capsule, until the designated opening dates.

Plans are being made for a ceremony for moving the time capsules to be held in conjunction with activities on June 30 during the Pickin’ in the Park Fireworks Celebration.

The old city hall property was sold at Auction by the town last year.  After months of discussing the possibility of moving the building, which was constructed in 1914, town officials decided to let it be demolished.

Hopefully the change will bring new life and development to the downtown.

Developer Jim Simpson plans to incorporate the property into a proposal  to entice a grocery store back into downtown Williamston.

“Willkommen Bruder” - “Welcome Brother.”

In January of 2003, when Williamston resident Larry Rachels was told that he had a brother, he didn’t know what to think.

“My jaw kinda hit the table,” said Larry, who was 48 at the time. He told his mom that he didn’t even know she was pregnant.

But the news may not have been as big a shock to Rachels and his other family members as it was to his dad, Cecil, who was 80.

Four years ago a large envelope arrived in Greenwood addressed to  Rachels’ father, Cecil Vernon Rachels.

It arrived at the height of the Anthrax scare following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With a return address of a place called Bremerhaven and postmarked with words like “Luftpost” and “Eignehandig,” Marietta Rachels was afraid to touch the large envelope addressed to her husband who was in a nursing home.

Though the family knew that Rachels had been stationed in Germany during the latter stages of World War II, they had no idea who the envelope could be from.

She asked Cecil and he said he didn’t know anyone in Germany. 

Not knowing what else to do, it was taken to the Greenwood sheriff’s office by their daughter, Janice.

Once inspected by the authorities and given the OK, the envelope was opened.

Inside were several pictures, one a black and white picture of her dad.

“I opened it up and out fell this picture of my daddy standing next to his Army jeep in Germany in 1946,” Janice said in an interview in the Greenwood Index-Journal.

“I thought, ‘How in the world does this person in Germany have a picture of my daddy?’ I mean, we have that exact same picture.”

A second picture, this one in color, was of the person who had sent the package, a man named  Werner Cecil Meyer, who looked strikingly familiar.

Janice said that when she saw the second picture, she knew immediately that he was kin.

The eyes, the thin mustache, were identical to her fathers.

A letter accompanying the package explained the mystery.

“Dr. Mr. Rachels, After a long time of thinking and searching I decided to write a letter to you. No doubt about, I had thought it over, again and again. should I or should I not. ... now you might ask yourself: “who is this guy?’ In the following  I wll try to give the answer ... I was born December 12th, 1946 and for a very long time I did not know anything of your existence. No one told me a word. When I was grown up they gave me some photographs showing you in February 1946. Do not be astonished, but I started to be a little bit proud of you ... today I am the age of 56, married happily ...”

Cecil Rachels had a German son. The siblings Janice, Gail and Larry, had a German brother.

Janice immediately called her sister, Gail, telling her to pick up their mother and get to Morningside assisted living.

Once they arrived, Marietta read it slowly before giving the letter to her husband, saying, “Congratulations, from your son in Germany.”

He read it and sat in stunned silence.

“He was in shock,” Janice said. “He sat there for about 10 minutes. He’s a big talker, and that was the first time I’d ever seen him like that.”

The pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place.

Rachels had dated a lady in Germany when he was stationed there. She was an opera singer who had even performed for Hitler once.

The family wrote back to their German brother to let him know that they had received the package and not to worry.

Letters turned into emails, and emails to boxes of goodies sent each Christmas from  Bremerhaven and from South Carolina to Germany.

After four years of correspondence, arrangements were made for a visit. Father, brother, and sisters were going to meet their German brother in person.

As expected, there was excitement and anticipation about meeting their new brother.

“I am very excited,” Larry  said in an interview last week. “We are really looking forward to this.”

It was a family reunion 60 years in the making, but German national Werner (German for Vernon) Cecil Meyer and his American family finally met this week.

The plane bringing Meyer into Atlanta Saturday was delayed for an hour, putting everyone on edge, family members said, and then it took another hour to get through customs, finally they met.

“We recognized him right off,” said sister Gail.

“There have been a lot of happy hearts the last couple of days,” said Larry.

Meyer said he was afraid his son-in-law Thorston Heckel, who made the trip to America with him, might not be able to bring him to the states.

“There wasn’t much time to think about even coming because everyone was involved in their family,” he said. “When we finally got to Atlanta was when it was really impressing.”

“We got to the main gate and we heard his family before we saw them,” Heckel said. “It was at the moment he felt he had known them already.”

When asked about meeting his father, Meyer said that the feelings he experiended in meeting his American father were almost too much for him.

“My impression at that moment was kind of too much,” he said. “The first time in pictures then for real. There was not time for tears. It was too much for all the family coming together for tears,” said Meyer.

“It’s going to take some more time to work things over through his mind,” his son-in-law said. “It’s a hard time to see his father now because of his handicap than if he had seen him earlier.”

But Larry said the family was grateful that he had been able to come and to meet his father.

“We’re very thankful medical technology has progressed to the level it has,” Larry said. “In 1999 we almost lost my father.”

Cecil had a quadruple bypass, his gall bladder was removed, and both legs were amputated due complications associated with diabetes.

“If the medical technology hadn’t been able to pull him through there’s a good chance Werner wouldn’t have gotten to meet his father and probably wouldn’t have come over here now,” Larry said.

But he did come, bringing lots of excitement with him.

Since arriving in South Carolina, Meyer has received a warm welcome from his new family and from others.

Cliff Bryant, father of State Senator Kevin Bryant presented Werner with  a state flag which has flown over the State Capitol in Columbia.

After a tour of the BMW plant near Spartanburg on Monday, the united family traveled to brother Larry’s hometown, and visited Williamston’s Mineral Spring Park.

While in Williamston, Meyer was presented a Spring Water Festival hat and T-shirt as souvenirs to take back to Germany.

“It’s been an exciting last few days,” said Janice “It has been an adrenaline rush.”

Anticipating Meyer’s arrival, the family has saved money and held yard sales to be able to treat their new found brother to a taste of the South while he is here.

While getting to know each other during the 12 day stay, they plan to travel to Gatlinburg, Tennessee where they will take in “Dollywood” and then to the Dixie Stampede at Myrtle Beach.

Werner will be staying at a hotel next to the Morningside center in Greenwood and will be able to spend time with his father.

Larry said there are a number of similarities within the family. His father worked with heavy equipment building roads. Larry is a heavy equipment operator. Werner worked 17 years as a welder at a shipyard.

Two years ago Werner shaved his mustache, another feature he shared with his American brother and dad.

(Editors note: His sense of humor is very similar to his Amercian brother and there is lots of laughter).

Werner has a son and daughter and two grandchildren. He lost his wife to throat cancer last year.

His mother told him about his American dad only after his German father passed away.

Werner is German for Vernon,  a name he was given in honor of his American father.

Family members with the Rachels in Williamston included Thorston Heckel, son-in-law; Janice Banister, sister; Werner Meyer, Gail Carruth, sister; Larry Rachels, brother; Donna Rachels Larry’s wife; Frances and Bob Nichols, Donna’s parents. Another family member who lives just outside Atlanta, Alison Stansil, joined the family when meeting Meyer at the airport

“Something good did come out of the war. If not for it he (my dad) would not have been there. Freedom and life came from the experience,” according to Rachels.

“Willkommen Bruder”

“Welcome Brother.”

Town awarded paving C funds

By Stan Welch

Williamston Mayor pro tem Otis Scott, along with Rusty Burns, the Town’s grant writer, appeared before the Anderson County Transportation Committee Monday. By the time they left, two projects had been funded.

The committee appropriated $50,000 to pave Spring Street, and an additional $6800 was earmarked for installing emergency lights at the fire station on Main Street to allow emergency vehicles to get in and out safely during fire responses.

The funds come from C funds, which are generated by a state tax on gasoline sales.

Councilman Scott said he had been trying to get funds for the Spring Street project for some time. “That road has been in need of repair for more than two years. Senator Billy O’Dell and Rusty Burns helped us get these funds. I’m just proud to know the road is going to get fixed.”

The emergency flashing caution lights will warn traffic that fire trucks are entering the street, and will allow the trucks to safely return to the firehouse when the fire is over. “We’ve needed that for a long time. These fellows are in enough danger doing what they do for us. They should at least be safe trying to leave the station on a run. And it’s safer for the people in town, too,” said Scott.

The time is here for graduates

Graduation ceremonies for Anderson School District One graduates will be held this Saturday, May 19 at the Anderson Civic Center.

Palmetto High Graduates will be the first to receive their diplomas at 10 a.m. Wren graduation ceremonies will follow at 1 p.m.

At the Palmetto Graduation Ceremonies Honor Grad Dedria Rene Powell will lead the Pledge of Allegiance. The Palmetto Band will perform the National Anthem.

Honor Grad Lauren Rene Fincher will give the invocation.

Honor Grad Amanda Jill Bagwell will welcome guests.

Salutatorian Chad Michael Davis will address the student body. There will be a choral presentation, Instrument of Peace.

Valedictorian Sarah Ellen Franco will address the student body. Dr. Mason Gary, Palmetto High Principal will introduce platform guests.

Anderson School District One Board Chairman Fred Alexander, Superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler, Assistant Principal Mike Kelly and Brian Couch will assist with the presentation of diplomas.

Dr. Gary will confirm graduates.

Honor Grad Whitfield Albert Parham will have closing remarks.

The Palmetto High Band will lead the Alma Mater. Honor Grad Allison Brooke Baldwin will pronounce the benediction.

Persons attending the ceremony are reminded that loud expressions of pleasure for individual graduates are not allowed because it distracts from the recognition of the following graduate. Anyone who chooses to be disruptive during the ceremony will be escorted from the Civic Center.

Wren High graduation program was unavailable.

Other graduation ceremonies planned for this week include Friday, May 18 at 2 pm: T.L. HANNA (ticket required for admission)

May 18 at 5 pm: WESTSIDE (ticket required for admission)

May 18 at 8 pm: CRESCENT

 Saturday, May 19 at 10 am: PALMETTO; 1 pm: WREN (ticket required for admission); 4 pm: BELTON-HONEA PATH and: PENDLETON at 7 p.m.

Kelly running for West Pelzer mayor

By Stan Welch

Based on eight years’ experience as a member of the West Pelzer Town Council, including several years during which the Town has experienced serious water and sewer problems, Maida Kelly sees the solving of those problems as one of her main goals in seeking the office of Mayor. 

“The feasibility study that Goldie & Associates have proposed would be very helpful to the town if we could find an alternative to the high sewer rates that we expect if we hook onto Western Carolina. We also need to seek alternatives to our source of water. The Town pays so much for water. We need to find a better way to reduce those rates too.”

The feasibility study Kelly refers to is a proposed study to determine whether West Pelzer and Pelzer would benefit from pursuing a regional sewer plan with Williamston, which is currently preparing to use a land application method that would remove their wastewater from the discharge stream into the Saluda River. The method is expected to stabilize and reduce the costs of treating the town’s wastewater in the foreseeable future.

Kelly says that not only are fair rates important, but that the water and sewer issues are keeping the town from growing. “I would like to see more businesses in town, and more annexation. But we have to get these things straightened out first,” she said.

 Kelly says she was instrumental in obtaining grant funds for the ongoing improvements to the Town’s water system. “I would continue to pursue all available grant sources to continue to improve the town. I am not in favor of raising taxes.”

She says she would be able to provide a daily presence at the Town Hall, since she is retired. “I would also provide a monthly financial statement to the Council.”

She said that she would consider hiring more police officers if it proved necessary. “We have two officers now, counting the Chief. We have a third position open, but no one has applied for it. That’s not our problem. But if it became necessary in the future, I would consider a fourth position.”

Kelly is a member of West Pelzer Baptist Church, and the Order of The Eastern Star. She served as Mayor pro tem for four years.

“I want to thank the people of West Pelzer for their support in the past. I am not the kindofperson who says things about others, and that’s not why I’m running. I want to see the Town improve, and if I can help make that happen, I would be honored to be Mayor. I would appreciate everyone who votes for me.”

Paxton hopes to continue service as West Pelzer mayor

By Stan Welch

As she approaches the end of her first term, West Pelzer Mayor Peggy Paxton says she can look back on progress made, as well as looking forward to challenges that will have to be met.

A project to install water lines is nearing completion, and Paxton says her next goal would be to apply for the same grant in order to upgrade the Town’s sewer system as well. “The Community Block Development Grants are available for just that purpose. We have to continue to pursue this kind of funding, since no Town our size can afford to finance their own infrastructure,” said Paxton. “It just isn’t possible, with the tax base that we have.”

Increasing that tax base through annexation, and the recruitment of new business depends on getting the Town’s current water and sewer problems solved. “Right now, we’re under a DHEC moratorium that won’t even let us add a new business unless it moves into an existing property. We have to get these things solved if we are going to grow.”

Paxton and other Town officials have been involved in preliminary talks concerning a possible alternative to connecting to the new Western Carolina Treatment plant. Officials from Pelzer, Williamston, Rural Development Agency and Goldie & Associates are discussing a feasibility study for a possible regional plan that would control wastewater treatment costs for all the Towns.

“That plan shows a lot of promise, but we’re in the early talking stages right now. I’m hopeful that we can use this idea, but we don’t have any commitments from DHEC that they will approve it,” said Paxton. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

Mayor Paxton also says she would pursue other grants as well. “We passed up a chance to receive a $200,000 ISTEA grant two years ago. That grant would have allowed us to beautify our Main Street area, but the Council chose not to spend the $3800 in matching funds. That was a fifty to one return on the money. Towns the size of ours just can’t afford to miss out on that kind of investment. Someone has to be aggressive enough to go and get these funds, to pursue these opportunities. That’s what I want to do.”

Paxton also points to improvements in the Town’s accounting that she says have been very important. “Our audits have been improving each year. There was a great deal of  inefficiency in the records keeping when I was first elected. But we have worked very hard and we have improved our performance in keeping better records”.

She says the Town’s performance in general has been solid during her term. “For example, we have paid off fifty-five thousand dollars in matching funds for our water lines project. We did that without any increase for anyone. One way we have done that is that we have established a very good working relationship with our state officials, such as Sen. O’Dell and Rep. Dan Cooper and  Rep. Michael Thompson. They have been very supportive and helpful”.

Paxton was planning to hire a third police officer this week. She says that police protection is one of the few benefits tied exclusively to being with in the town limits. “Water and sewer extends to customers outside the actual town limits. So does garbage pickup. But police protection is a significant and specific advantage to being in the Town of west Pelzer. This new hire doesn’t give us 24 hour protection, but it’s obviously an improvement over the coverage we had with only two officers.”

Paxton says she would also continue to support and promote the Strong Communities program which she helped establish in the Town. “I have met so many new people in the area, people who want to see our town grow and improve. It’s a great program to let folks know that we welcome them and care about their future, just like we care about the Town’s.”

New accounting system now running in West Pelzer

By Stan Welch

The West Pelzer Council met Monday night for the last time before the Town’s elections on June 5th. Anyone in the large audience who were  expecting  pre-election fireworks were disappointed as the meeting passed uneventfully.

 A brief update on the  sewer feasibility study was given by Mayor Peggy Paxton. She reported that DHEC was asking for written assurances that the Williamston wastewater treatment plant, which is going to be upgraded, will have the capacity to accept wastewater from West Pelzer and Pelzer.

The three towns, which are all under DHEC consent orders,  are considering a regional plan that would involve Williamston treating the wastewater for all three towns, then employing a land application method of disposing of the wastewater. If approved by DHEC, the option could prove to be much less expensive than the proposed connection to the Western Carolina treatment plant in Piedmont.

Paxton said that once the assurances are received by DHEC, that agency is expected to provide the Town with a written statement of support for such a plan. At that time, the West Pelzer Town Council, which has insisted on such written assurances, will meet to consider whether to fund its share of the cost of the feasibility study.

Council also voted unanimously to update and strengthen its ordinance dealing with the appearance of the Town’s vacant lots. Paxton presented an excerpt from the county ordinance and recommended that the language contained in it be added to the Town’s ordinance, which she says is so vague as to be unenforceable. “We have a situation in town that we’ve had for years. We asked the county to come out and look at it, and they said it is clearly a violation of our ordinance. But they said our ordinance is so vague and weak that it can’t be enforced.”

 Councilman Joe Turner agreed that the ordinance was inadequate. “We definitely need to update our ordinance. We need something that we can use to make these people clean these places up.”

 Some provisions included in the proposed language involve distances from occupied dwellings. For example, any property, whether occupied or not, within two hundred feet of a developed platted subdivision or residence is subject to restrictions concerning the presence of weeds or rank growth, as well as infestations of vermin, such as rats and snakes. The amended ordinance would also give the Town the authority to set time limits for compliance with the ordinance, and to go onto the property and correct the violation after those deadlines had passed.

 Town attorney Carey Murphy, who had not had a chance to review the proposed amendment prior to the meeting, nevertheless advised that Council adopt language making the property owner responsible and not tenants. “Then, if you need to go in and clear a problem up, you can simply add the cost to the property taxes and force payment that way,” he said.

 Paxton also presented Council with the first financial reports generated by the Town’s new accounting software. The program has been installed for several months, but training and data entry requirements had delayed its actual use, said Mayor Paxton.

 The reports are far more complete and detailed than the bank statements that Council members had been receiving. Several of the Council members had complained of the lack of detail in those reports and the delays in getting the new system up and operating.

Controversial road fee voted down

By Stan Welch

The Anderson County Council recessed their meeting after a half hour to cross the street to the County Courthouse, where a memorial service for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty was conducted, in accordance with National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Day.

Two hours after they reconvened, in a close 4-3 vote, the controversial twenty five dollar road fee that was a linchpin in the proposed 2007-08 budget was put on hold.

The decision to remove the proposed fee from the budget ordinance allowed first reading approval of the ordinance, but gutted County Administrator Joey Preston’s efforts to create an additional revenue stream he says is needed to replace funds lost to the state mandated reduction in tax rates on private vehicles.

Councilman Larry Greer spearheaded the opposition to the fee, offering the amendment that removed it from the budget. Greer has been at the forefront of the budget process this year, also offering language designed to address concerns over the way that fund transfers between departments are conducted and reported, and questioning the proposed increase in the solid waste fee.

“It is very clear to me that the people in my district do not want this road fee. I have held community meetings and traveled around my district, and the response has been clear. I move that we delete the road fee, as it appears, in its entirety” said Greer. Councilwoman Cindy Wilson quickly seconded the motion, saying that the fee, as proposed  and budgeted, offers no significant increase in actual road funding.

Councilman Bill McAbee also stated that “This fee seems to be a particularly unpopular tax. Many in my district oppose it too.”

Greer buttressed his argument with statistics provided by the county staff. 

“I asked for information on the number of houses on the tax rolls, starting at those valued at between twenty five and fifty thousand dollars, and going up in increments of twenty five thousand dollars. I was shocked to learn that 69% of the houses in the county are valued at less than one hundred thousand dollars, and 52% are valued at less than seventy five thousand. So that total figure of seventy dollars in fees for those with two cars, and paying the solid waste fee, is a significant impact.”

Chairman Bob Waldrep expressed some  concerns, saying, “It troubles me that the budget is so heavily predicated on this fee. We also need to do some trimming on this budget. No one wants to get into the muscle of government, but there is other tissue here that can be trimmed. If this amendment passes it will require the administrator to be very creative in producing a budget that is as efficient as possible.”

The fee was intended to generate an additional $4.1 million in revenues, to be used for matching funds that would be used to secure federal grants for some bridge repairs. One of the sticking points was the fact that approximately $1.7 million was slated for employee raises. (See related story elsewhere in this issue.) That is the amount needed to provide a five per cent raise, according to Preston, who told Council that each percentage point that salaries are increased requires $350,000.

Councilwoman Gracie Floyd said that she was for and against the fee. “My people will be hit the hardest. My district has both the lowest income and the highest number of seniors in the county. But if the money was going for roads entirely, I think they would support it. But the best thing for us to do is what you won’t do. And that’s to vote for a tax increase.”

She conceded however that even that, given a recent cap on millage increases imposed by the state, would not provide the revenue needed. That cap would restrict any millage increase to a total of 3.4 mills. Gina Humphreys, county financial analyst, told Floyd that, without the road fee in place, eight mills would be needed.

Councilman Ron Wilson, who had expressed his support for the fee at a budget meeting last week, offered compromise language in an effort to save the fee. His amendment would have allowed adoption of the budget with the road fee intact, but would require a separate approval process by Council by September 1 of this year to actually implement the fee. “This will give us some time to look at other sources of revenue while leaving this option alive,” said Wilson, who later remarked that Council had made a very big mistake in defeating the fee.

Councilwoman Cindy Wilson originally seconded the motion, but later withdrew that second, following some confusion over which amendments and motions had been properly made.

Greer pointed out that his motion was to do away with the fee entirely, and if successful, would make Wilson’s proposed amendment moot. He also added that such a compromise would leave Preston in a quandary. “How could the administrator create a budget based on a maybe? Let’s vote this fee up or down tonight, and then he at least has a direction from us.”

Preston said he might not mind being in that quandary. “It would let us keep the debate alive, keep it in motion. I agree with trimming fat, but we are into tissue here. There is not enough fat to make up for these numbers. We’re at a point where we can’t cut the budget without cutting services.”

Preston said that the county is “maxed out on what we can borrow, in terms of our ability to pay it back. Fees are good because we can use them to leverage revenue bonds.” Preston became so exasperated that at one point he pleaded with Council to “give first reading approval to something!”

Chairman Waldrep responded, saying that the County had some bonds that were maturing in the future, and would free up some funds currently being used to service those debts.

“Sometimes, we just want too much at one time. We need to clamp down and take an inventory of everything we have. Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by everything the county has taken on.”

Preston replied that the County’s capital improvement plan, which has resulted in several new libraries, the farmer’s market, the civic center, the arts center, and several other projects, was approved by Council several years ago, before state measures to reduce property taxes cut into county revenues. “If they had left our revenues alone, we would have plenty to fund these things.” Preston continued, saying, “We’re glad to have you tell us where you think we can cut, so we can explain it to you.”

During the discussion, Gina Humphreys reported that the County currently has approximately one thousand employees, both full and part time. “It’s hard to pin it down, since it changes day to day.” Councilwoman Wilson stated that in one budget year, ‘05-’06, the county added ninety five new employees.

As the discussion wound down, Floyd again made a motion to retain the road fee for first reading approval and explore other options. Greer again pointed out that the only proper motion was to amend his motion. County attorney Tom Martin, asked by the Chair for clarification, said that Floyd’s motion was in essence the opposite of Greer’s. “To pass one will be to defeat the other. That would be the simplest course.” That was the course followed.

The vote to remove the fee was 4-3,with Ms. Wilson, Mr. Greer, Mr. McAbee, and Mr. Waldrep voting for the amendment. The subsequent vote to give first reading approval was 6-1, with Ms. Wilson opposed.

Mr. Wilson said he considers the vote to be a mistake by Council. “I wasn’t surprised by the vote”, he said, speaking to The Journal after the meeting. “I knew Mr. Greer had the votes. We’ll have to wait and see if he has any alternatives to offer. He seems to be in the driver’s seat right now.”

Greer, speaking during the Council members’ remarks at the end of the meeting, said that one problem was that the budget was developed with one idea in mind. “That idea was to generate five and half million dollars in new revenues based on two fees. I make no apologies for doing what my constituents want me to do. And I stand by my commitment to find pay raises for the employees. I think we can work with this budget and accomplish that.”

Ms. Wilson said that she has promised her constituents to seek a full accounting of how their taxes are spent. “I cannot see the point in increasing revenues until we have a grasp on how the monies we already have are being spent. This budget process, which is finally being actually participated in by Council, will let people see how badly we need to be involved and informed about the County’s finances.”

Chairman Waldrep also said he was not surprised by the vote. “I have sensed a sort of general philosophy that it is time to re-examine some of the spending issues. Whether this will delay the budget or not is hard to say. But we have a working budget right now, so we have some leeway.”

Road fee would go to pay salaries if approved

By Stan Welch

A key element in the budget proposed by County Administrator Joey Preston is a road fee of $25 dollars to be charged on each vehicle registered in the county. According to Preston’s figures, that fee will generate an additional $4.1 million in revenues.

Of that amount, $1,700,000 will go to the county’s recently organized bridge crew, which has been tasked with repairing and replacing those bridges which are small enough to be handled in house. According to Preston’s budget presentation to the Council earlier, an additional $700,000, despite being put in the general fund, will go to other unspecified road uses, while the remaining $1,700,000 will go to the general fund as well.

Preston and financial analyst Gina Humphreys have conceded that the last amount will go to providing the employee raises requested in the 2007-08 budget.

That admission promises to make an already controversial fee an even tougher sell. Councilman Larry Greer, for example, has already expressed his displeasure with the fee on two counts. Speaking at last week’s called meeting to consider the budget, Greer said, “I am opposed to this fee on principle, and because it is inappropriately budgeted. I cannot support it.”

Greer pointed out that $2,400,000 of the expected $4.1 million is going to the general fund. “The transportation department’s budget is only going up by $327,000,” said Greer last week. “That means $2.1 million is going somewhere else.”

District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson has asked on several occasions for assurances from Preston that any raises will be passed on to those employees making the lesser amounts, and not just to those higher on the county’s organization chart.

Based on figures obtained by The Journal under the Freedom of Information Act, those higher up on the charts do well. The FOIA request was for a list of all county employees making more than $50,000 a year. That is the limit set by state law in determining which salaries are public information.

County personnel director Phylis McAlister, in providing the information, stated that the figures below are only for those employees under the direct supervision of the county administrator.

Other offices, such as Treasurer, Coroner, the Solicitor’s office and the Courts, the Auditor’s office, and the Clerk of Court, to name some, are not included in the figures. Neither is the Sheriff’s department.

The thirty five employees listed make a combined annual salary of approximately $2,367,000, or almost four mills as a mill is valued in Anderson County this year.

Waldrep suggests hiring auditor to report to Council

By Stan Welch

Potentially significant shifts in the perceived political landscape of Anderson County continued to appear at a called meeting of the County Council last Friday. The meeting was called to allow for more review and discussion of the County’s proposed budget ordinance. Council was scheduled to consider first reading approval of the budget at the May 15 meeting.

A number of issues were raised by  members of the Council. The question of fund transfers between departments and how they should be reported was raised. District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson stated that the budget ordinance should be more in line with state law in terms of reporting fund transfers and  general financial reporting.

District Three Councilman Greer said that the issue seemed to center around exactly when a transfer had been performed. “Is it when the administrator has received the transfer, or when he approves it? It’s neither. It’s when the transfer is completed.”

The issue of fund transfers has been a contentious one, especially between county administrator Joey Preston and Councilwoman Wilson. She has frequently complained that Preston fails to comply with the county budget ordinance, which requires that Council be notified of any transfers in excess of $2500, and that the notice should be given within thirty days. Some transfers, totaling large amounts of money, have gone unreported for several months at a time.

Said Wilson, “We had more than a million dollars worth of transfers made during the 2005-’06 fiscal year that weren’t reported until February of this year. That’s just unacceptable. We have a fiduciary responsibility to be better informed than that.”

Preston says the process of submitting, approving and performing a fund transfer takes a total of five signatures by various county officials. “The request originates with a department head, who sends it to his supervisor, for example Holt Hopkins in transportation. Then it goes to Jana Pressley, then to Rita Davis, then to Gina Humphreys. Finally it comes to me, and if approved, it has to go back through the financial department again,” said Preston. “I then provide notice of it to the Clerk to Council within thirty days. We are doing everything we are required to do.”

Wilson says that the Council should be notified when the administrator approves the transfer. Language included in the proposed budget ordinance at Councilman Greer’s request would address that issue, requiring prior notice when funds are transferred between departments, if the department receiving the funds has exceeded its total budget.

Two fees, one in existence, and one that has been proposed, were topics of considerable discussion. The solid waste fee is recommended for a fifty per cent increase from an annual $40 a year fee to $60 a year. The funds would be used to address a $2.2 million deficit in the solid waste department, as well as begin to refurbish and replace a number of antiquated convenience centers, according to Environmental Services Director Vic Carpenter.

The fee has been stagnant since 1996, just before the Big Creek Landfill was sold to Allied Waste, Inc. District Six Councilman Ron Wilson stated flatly that he wholeheartedly supports the fee. “There is no reason to argue against this. It hasn’t gone up in eleven years. My area needs a new convenience center. I intend to vote for it.” The County recently broke ground on a site in Wilson’s District, which will include a recycling education center.

District Five Councilman Michael G.Thompson also announced his intention to vote for the fee, saying he had experienced an epiphany. “I had opposed the fee and suddenly I remembered economics 101. If a service costs more than it generates, raise the fee. It’s that simple.”

Greer asked whether a lower increase would suffice until a general obligation bond could be enacted to finance the construction of the convenience centers.

Thompson and Wilson have also expressed support for a second fee, which has yet to be enacted, but plays a key role in the budget discussions. A road fee of twenty-five dollars for each vehicle registered in Anderson County, is projected to generate approximately $4.1 million annually. Of that amount, $1.7 million is earmarked for the County’s recently established bridge crew.

The remaining $2.4 million will go into the general fund, a circumstance which concerns several members of Council. Councilman Greer pointed out that the $4.1 million revenue stream would only increase the transportation department’’ budget by approximately $327,000. “I understand that the $1.7 million goes to the bridge fund, but this money  ( Editor’s Note: $2.1 million)going into the general fund is just replacing other money that’s going somewhere else,” said Greer. “Legally, it may be considered as being used for transportation, but it is not getting to the road. All I know is that $2.1 million is not going to transportation. Because of that I cannot support that fee.”

Under questioning from Councilman Wilson, Greer further acknowledged that he would probably oppose the fee on philosophical grounds, “even if it were budgeted appropriately.” Councilman Thompson said that the funds were going to some function of the roads, but Chairman Waldrep agreed with Greer, calling the proposal a funds swap.

County Administrator Joey Preston, who has conceded that the fee will be used in large part for employee salaries, told Council that recent reductions in the property tax rates on vehicles in South Carolina had cost the County approximately $4.1 million annually. “You have told me to find alternative sources of revenue, without raising taxes. There are only so many options.”

In perhaps the session’s biggest surprise, Chairman Waldrep, during a discussion concerning filling a vacant position in the Clerk to Council’s office, asked Council to give serious consideration to hiring an auditor who would answer only to the Council, to verify information provided by the county’s routine financial reports.

”It’s my understanding that Gina Humphreys was originally hired to serve in that role. She works for the administrator now, however. I would propose that Council employ an auditor to help us interpret the financial information we receive. They would answer only to the Council. I would be willing to use any discretionary funds I have towards meeting that cost. That would remove virtually all questions concerning the County’s finances, and would give us an alternative to a forensic audit.”

Speaking directly to Preston, Waldrep said, “It would also put Council back on an equal footing with the administrator. I know this is a flash point of difficulty, but it should be a welcome suggestion to the other side. The ultimate responsibility for this government is the Council’s. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

Councilwoman Wilson quickly volunteered her six thousand dollar annual reimbursable account towards the hiring of an auditor. Councilman Greer moved to adjourn, a motion that was successful.

Saluda River Catfish band to honor musicians
Saluda River Valley Sound

The Saluda River Catfish will be hosting a salute to the first generation of musicians who made up what is popularly becoming known as the “Saluda River Valley Sound “ at Just More Barbecue on Cherry Street in Pendleton on Friday, May 25 beginning at 6:30 p.m.

The Saluda River Valley Sound originated in the textile mill communities of the Saluda River, centered primarily in Pelzer, Williamston, and Piedmont, and was performed from the late 1940’s until the mid 1960’s. The “first generation” provided local audiences with their taste of some of the first live electric, amplified music.

Featuring electric as well as acoustic guitars and bass, their repertoire included popular Country/Western songs of the day, as well as Southern Gospel tunes. Surviving “first generation” musicians Gerald and Jack Fountain and others will perform and reminisce about the “early days.” The public is invited and price of admission is the cost of a meal on the barbecue buffet.

Seems to Me . . . The winds are blowing

By Stan Welch

Last November, when two new members were elected to County Council, along with the strong reelection of a controversial third member, a lot of people thought that the political tide in Anderson County might be turning. And it might be. But a smart man would hold his bets awhile, and see which way the wind is blowing.

One thing’s for sure. The wind is blowing. In fact, it seems to be swirling a good bit. For starters, Ron Wilson and Michael Thompson seem to be getting along famously. Both have expressed solid support for both the increase in the solid waste fee and for the proposed road tax. They seem to be forging an alliance on the issue of increased revenues without actually proposing a ’gasp’ tax increase. Whether the supportive partnership lasts beyond these given issues remains to be seen.

Still, that’s either expected behavior for two self proclaimed conservatives, or they have abandoned their principles and their constituents. It all depends on whom you ask. If you ask me, it may be a dose of reality leading to some flexibility. As Wilson said at Friday’s budget meeting, his folks sent him to County Council to get some roads and infrastructure.

If so, then he probably has a defensible position, although some in District Six wonder if their representative knows that the district extends beyond Powdersville. Whether Thompson’s “folks” are as understanding of his statement that he has no problem with the budget, and no desire to nickel and dime it to death, is between him and them.

Wilson’s relative silence concerning the issue of a full audit of the county’s finances is also stirring leaves along the right side of the county’s roads. Conservatives are wondering what has happened to the fire breather many of them expected to see. Could it be that Council Chair Bob Waldrep, who seemed from the very start to be more interested in establishing procedures to assure future improvement than in revisiting past allegations, has enlisted Wilson in an alternative strategy? Will Wilson provide a badly needed vote if the question of Council hiring its own auditor ever makes it to the floor of the Council chambers? Is that the reason for his silence?

Even more intriguing is the question of whether Council veteran Larry Greer will stand the ground he seemingly staked out by setting Waldrep up Friday to drop his independent auditor bombshell into the budget meeting?

That bombshell went off in Joey Preston’s face, clearly catching him unaware. So unexpected was the suggestion, which drew immediate support from Councilwoman Cindy Wilson, that one had to wonder how Gracie Floyd would have reacted, had she attended the meeting. Bill McAbee, who was remarkably quiet during the budget meeting, offering only one or two innocuous comments, reacted to Waldrep’s sudden move by suggesting that perhaps Council should be involved in naming the County’s independent auditor. The idea would have carried more import had it been made when the issue of the independent auditor was first raised. It smacks of too little too late.

Waldrep’s idea is to fill the vacancy created in the Clerk to Council’s office last year when Tammy Shealy was dismissed after an exchange of e-mails with Preston which seemed to indicate that she was reporting on the Clerk and the Council’s activities. Instead of hiring a deputy clerk, Waldrep wants to bring in an independent auditor to help Council interpret the County’s financial reports. That auditor would answer only to the Council, and would, in Waldrep’s words “put us on an equal footing with the administrator.”

It was a difficult idea to frame in such a way as not to indicate distrust, but Waldrep tried. He said that Gina Humphreys, who now works under Preston as a financial analyst at a salary of more than ninety thousand dollars, was originally hired to serve the Council as an independent source of financial information and interpretation. She soon was working for the administrator, leaving Clerk to the Council Linda Edelmann without an assistant until Shealy and her husband followed Preston over from Cherokee County.

The County Administrator, the Clerk to Council, and one assistant to the Clerk are the only three people that the County Council actually hires and/or fires. The rest of the employees of the County work for Mr. Preston.

It seems to me that letting Council keep one of their three employees completely independent is reasonable enough. Perhaps that wind that’s blowing could become a breath of fresh air.

 

 

 

 

 

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