sentenced to 90 days in jail for embezzlement
Former Williamston Town Clerk Donna Ellis was sentenced to 90 days in jail, payment of $2,300 in restitution, and five years probation by Circuit Court Judge Alex Macaulay, after a jury found her guilty of embezzling $2,300 in town funds to buy state retirement credits and for conspiring with former Mayor Marion Middleton to embezzle $75,000 in town funds.
The verdict came last Friday, May 16, after two days of testimony from town employees and former officials including former Mayor Middleton and present and former town councilmen.
Ellis will report to the Anderson County Detention Center for 45 consecutive weekends without the possibility for work credit, according to 10th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Kathy Hodges. She will serve her jail time on weekends so she can continue to work.
Im glad the jury held her responsible for what she did, Hodges said.
Ellis, who was indicted for embezzlement, conspiracy and accessory to embezzlement, had two of four charges dismissed by Judge Macaulay.
Macaulay dismissed a charge of embezzlement and accessory to embezzle because he said her actions didnt meet the legal definitions.
Ellisattorney, Bill Bannister, contended that there was no evidence that she received any of the $75,000 embezzled by her former boss, though she signed the checks made to Middletons Distone corporation.
Bannister also said Ellis never counseled Middleton to take the money and they never had a written or verbal agreement.
State Law Enforcement Division agent Gene Donohue, who investigated the case, said that conspiracy doesnt necessarily require such an agreement.
Bannister said Ellis was an obedient employee who was following directions.
Assistant Solicitor Hodges said Ellis had enough authority to sign routine town checks without Middletons approval and that she could bring concerns to him.
Middleton, who pled guilty to charges of embezzlement in August, testified May 15 that at first he didnt believe it was wrong to write checks to Distone to get around state retirement salary restrictions. But he and Ellis began to question the practice before he stopped the checks in early 1999.
Before testifying, Middleton said he hadnt understood what he was pleading guilty to last year and wanted to know if that fact would interfere with his testifying under oath.
I did not realize at the time that it was on there, he said. There was no conspiracy between the clerk and me.
I was told to sign the plea within 24 hours, he said. So I signed it.
During his testimony, Middleton said Ellis would prepare checks for Distone which were stamped with his signature and then deposited by Middleton.
Middleton said that he was told it was a way to get around the state retirement salary restrictions.
I was on state retirement at the time and was told I could get more salary this way, he said.
He said that he verbally told Ellis the purpose of the Distone checks and the amount to write.
He also said that he authorized Ellis to write the two checks used to pay for a retirement buy for her.
Middleton said he was rewarding a good employee, as other town employees had been in the past, by purchasing state retirement for Ellis for time she spent driving a school bus. He also said at the time another town employee was being considered, but his time had expired.
Middleton also stated that he had authorized a loan to Ellis to buy S. C. retirement and the practice was offered to other employees because a new computer system allowed deduction from salary.
The practice was later stopped because it became a nuisance, Middleton said.
Hodges pointed out that Middleton didnt recall authorizing the payments in an early interview with SLED agents and said at the time that he thought the retirement payments may have been for part time work she had done with the town before being hired as the clerk.
Middleton also testified that he authorized three town employees, including the current mayors brother, to continue to receive pay while they were out of work recovering from illness or accidents, sometimes for several months.
Town employees Tim Hood, Steve Clardy and Raymond Roach, all three had their salary continued after sick pay benefits expired, Middletons testimony showed.
We tried to take care of our employees. We had good employees who went the extra mile. The were an exceptional group of employees, Middleton said.
Former police chief Richard Turner had $37,000 in police retirement paid for by the town, testimony also showed.
Middleton said that under the old system, Turner would have drawn retirement from three different checks and that the decision was based on the fact that he had been with the town for 20 years. He was the best small town chief and I wanted to keep him, Middleton said.
Responding to questions from Ellis attorney, Middleton said Ellis received no benefit from any of the checks. When asked if he ever told her it was wrong, he said, No.
I informed her that it was one way to get compensation, Middleton said. I realized later that it was poor judgement.
Middleton said after 1999 he did not request any more checks.
Testimony during the second day included present and former councilmen and centered around who had responsibility for the budget, check writing, retirement payments and expense reimbursements.
During questioning by Hodges and Bannister, Councilman Wade Pepper said that the towns expenditures were included in the budget and for any large expenditures, the budget was supposed to be amended.
He also said he didnt remember any part of an authorization to buy time with the South Carolina Retirement System.
Pepper stated that he was informed that former chief Turner was on regular retirement and was being brought up to police retirement in 1993.
Pepper said that he became aware of Distone and when he questioned Ellis, he was given a note stating it was the mayors company, which he pulled out of his billfold while on the stand.
I just stuck it in my billfold and didnt take it out, Pepper said. He couldnt remember when he had gotten the note.
He stated that he was not aware that council approved any payments to Distone and said he was aware of the company probably a few months before Middleton lost the election to Clardy.
Pepper said he had asked Ellis about the Distone check and was told it was in the budget as professional services.
Pepper said he never asked Middleton about the checks and didnt know the purpose of the company.
He also stated that there was reimbursement policy for travel receipts, which he said was usually administered before a trip and he assumed were based on mileage.
Pepper also testified that he thought a $2,500 limit on spending by the mayor was a suggestion and didnt think it was ever approved.
When questioned by Bannister about the town purchasing retirement for LaDane Baker, a former police officer, Pepper said he didnt remember.
He said it was general knowledge about salary being for the brother of the current mayor during an illness.
Former councilman Jimmy Rogers who had more than 20 years of service on the council, said there was little discussion about the budget or other items before being approved.
He said he wasnt included in any discussions concerning buying time from the state retirement system for Ellis or Chief Turner.
Rogers was asked to look over council minutes from 1993 reflecting an ordinance to change Turners state retirement to police retirement.
After looking over the document, Rogers said he remembered it but that it contained no figures and that ordinances such as this were often signed without actually being read.
We would sign it, we would never read it, he said, and pass it to the next man.
Rogers also stated that there was little discussion on the towns audits when they were received and that he didnt think the town had ever approved the $2,500 cap on spending by the mayor. I dont think we ever made an ordinance. It was just suggested, he said.
He also stated that he wasnt exactly sure what expense checks given to council were for or for how long they were received. Rogers said he had no knowledge of the Distone company until after the election.
Former councilman Harold Mackey, who served on the council for 25 years, said he wasnt consulted about the citys contributions into the state retirement fund on behalf of town employees but that the police retirement could have been approved by council.
Mackey also testified that the first he had heard about payments to the Distone company was in Wednesdays meeting other than what he read in the papers during the initial SLED investigation.
When asked if Council approved any payments to Distone, Mackey responded, Not to my knowledge.
Councilman David Harvell, who was on council under Middleton and is still a member, stated that there were no budget meetings held under Middleton and that expense checks were issued in advance of meeting with no accounting required for it.
Harvell testified that the day to day financial operations were up to the mayor with some delegation to the clerk to sign checks.
Middleton was called back to the witness stand and was asked by Hodges if he remembered a statement made to SLED agents in April 2001 in which he stated he was not familiar with payments to the South Carolina Retirement System for Ellis and that it could have been for part-time work or her time as a bus driver.
Middleton said he answered the best he could when two agents flashed badges and began to question him at his real estate office. I tried to answer truthfully, he said.
Testimony offered by SLED agent Gene Donohue, showed that there was no documentation authorizing payments for Distone or the state retirement.
Donohue also said there was no evidence of employee loans being repaid except for penciled notes.
Two checks were written by Ellis for payments made to the state retirement system.
The checks were written by Ellis at different times, Donohue testified, one for $2331.70 on May 11, 1998 and $2301.70 on July 7, 1998.
He also said there was no documentation authorizing Ellis to make the two payments or for the town to pay Ellis portion.
Hodges said that two separate letters were sent by the state, one to the town for the employers amount and one to Ellis for the employees amount.
Judge Macaulay gave the jurors instruction on the law. He said that four elements of embezzlement had to be there. They were: proof that the defendant was a public officer in position of fiduciary capacity; public funds for safe keeping, possession, transfer and disbursement; defendant appropriated funds for own use or benefit; did so with fraudulent intent beyond a reasonable doubt.
For criminal conspiracy: combined with one or more persons for purpose of committing a lawful act by unlawful means or by lawful means or committing an unlawful act by lawful means; there must be mutual understanding or agreement or common intent or plan.
He also said that passive knowledge or consent does not count. The person must be guilty of knowledge and participation.
After deliberating for about one hour and 45 minutes, the jury announced the verdict of guilty of embezzling town funds to buy state retirement credits and for conspiring with former Mayor Marion Middleton to embezzle town funds.
This is a serious charge. The court does take it seriously, Hodges said before the judges sentencing.
Bannister said his client was lessor of a participant at best and though she did receive benefit of $2300 but also suffered public disgrace and being fired and she has maintained that she was not involved. Bannister asked the judge not to do any more to Mrs. Ellis than was done to the former mayor.
Ellis only words were I stand by my conviction. I am not guilty of those crimes.
Macaulay sentenced Ellis to 90 days in jail, with payment of $2,300 in restitution, and five years probation
She will report to the Anderson County Detention Center for 45 consecutive weekends without the possibility for work credit.
Middleton pled guilty in August 2002 to embezzling $76,000 from the Town of Williamston during his term as mayor. He served 46 days of a 90 day sentence, receiving early release due to a work-credit program.
In her opening remarks to the jury, Assistant Solicitor Kathy Hodges outlined the four indictments against former Williamston Clerk Donna Ellis: 1) embezzlement of funds greater than $5,000 by transferring $76,000 to Distone, a holding company set up by former mayor Marion Middleton to supplement his salary 2) embezzlement of funds less than $5,000 by diverting town funds to buy back her own state retirement 3) criminal conspiracy with Middleton to divert town funds and 4) accessory to felony embezzlement by aiding and abetting the commission of a felony. Hodges emphasized that this was a serious case with serious charges.
In his opening remarks to the jury, Defense Attorney Bill Bannister stated that 55-year-old Ellis worked at the pleasure of the mayor and town council. Bannister proposed that Ellis performed essentially a secretarial function and that when she received orders to write checks, it was not her place to question instructions. Since Ellis was only a participant, Bannister argued that she was not criminally liable for her actions.
Retired SLED agent John Fradeola took the stand as the states first witness. Fradeola stated that he began the investigation of financial irregularities in the town just one month before his retirement. He testified that he had interviewed Ellis about payments to Distone which had no supporting invoices or authorization to pay in minutes from town council meetings. According to Fradeola, Ellis stated that no 1099 forms were prepared for funds dispersed to Distone.
Bannister questioned Fradeola about the structure of the town government and where the ultimate decision-making took place saying that Ellis only signed the checks according to instructions. Fradeola testified that there was no evidence that Ellis received any of the funds diverted to Distone.
Mayor Phillip Clardy took the stand as the states second witness. Clardy testified that a SLED investigation was requested after questionable town expenditures were discovered. Clardy said that he had instructed town employees to discontinue $200 monthly expense checks written to council members without any documentation verifying expenses. A subsequent audit produced checks payable to Distone and a check for $2,331.70 to the S. C. Retirement System for Ellis retirement according to Clardy. Clardy also testified that Ellis alone handled all invoices, checks, payroll and payroll reports.
Does Mrs. Ellis position have decision-making authority? the defense attorney asked. Clardy said that he felt that the position did have decision-making authority. After further questioning about retirement payments that had been made, Clardy testified that the town had paid the police chiefs portion of his retirement which came to over $37,000.
The days testimony ended with retired town employees Joe Sullens and Randolph Thompson testifying that records were removed from the old town hall and taken to the land fill. Both said that they did not look at and could not testify to the contents of the boxes that were removed. Current town employee John Owen testified that he drove the town packer which holds over 8 tons of material to the old town hall to pick up everything to be thrown away. Owen said that the packer was about 1/4 full with the materials that were discarded.
Though the state objected, Macaulay released Ellis on bond until the trial could continue Thursday morning.
Members of Williamstons grievance committee met behind closed doors May 15 reviewing the firing of former police chief Richard Turner.
The committee of five heard testimony from Turner and Mayor Phillip Clardy for approximately two hours and 40 minutes.
The committee released a statement on the hearing to both parties and to the press on Tuesday which said the Towns policies and procedures were followed by the Mayor when he fired the police chief. The statement also included three recommendations.
Committee members, who are appointed by the mayor and council, were charged with looking at the situation to assure that Town policy was followed.
According to the statement, evidence and arguments were presented by both parties. However evidence from Mayor Clardy as to reasons for Turners termination was not allowed by Chairman Larry Strom due to objections by Turner.
Clardy said Wednesday that he was prepared to explain Turners termination with specific reasons and witnesses, but wasnt allowed to because of repeated objections by Turner.
Turner said he didnt want Clardy to enter any information into the record because he (Turner) had no idea why he was fired and could not offer any prepared response or witnesses during the grievance hearing.
Turner said he had asked Clardy for the reason during an executive session with Council members and Clardy would not respond then. He also said that Clardy had other opportunities and requests in the 35 days since he was terminated.
It is like a man going to court and then getting there to find out what he is charged with, Turner said.
Turner said he appreciated the efforts of the grievance committee who participated in the hearing.
Turner said he left after addressing the committee for approximately 45 minutes.
Neither party would comment on what was said during the hearing but both said it would not change anything, since the committee has no official authority other than to hear statements from both parties and make sure town policy was followed.
Clardy said that Turner was disclosed in writing, at his termination that for various reasons his services as Chief of Police were no longer needed.
A 5-0 vote by committee members showed that no policies or procedures were violated by Mayor Clardy.
In the statement, the committee did recommend that the mayor and Turner meet in a neutral setting with independent witnesses present, for the Mayor to inform Turner of his reasons for termination.
The committee also recommended that the town of Williamston adopt a policy in which terminated individuals are given the reason for termination, in writing, as soon as humanly possible.
Also, the committee recommends that at the next meeting of Town Council, the Mayor call for an executive session and give Council his reasons for termination of Turner, with the reminder that all information released to Council members in an executive session is to remain in the room.
In response to the recommendations, Clardy said he would respect any additional adoption of policy passed by council that would not jeopardize or compromise the liablility of the town or question the at will precedence of state law.
He also said he has discussed many issues with council members and with the former chief regarding the police department both prior to and after Turners termination.
Clardy said he would discuss with council individually or together in executive session, the factors which determined his decision.
He also maintained that he has already discussed those factors with individual council members that have inquired with his office.
The Town of Williamston apparently footed the bill for approximately $5,800 in meals for the mayor, town staff, supervisors and others over a two year period according to information provided to The Journal under a Freedom of Information request.
A review of the towns credit card statements for an account at First Citizens Bank reflects approximately $1,600 in charges for meals during 2001 and $4,200 for meals during 2002.
Most of the charges are to restaurants in Anderson or Greenville, including Capris, Carsons Steakhouse, Red Lobster and Ryans, statements show.
Other charges are for meals at local restaurants including Subway, Fiesta and Partners.
Handwritten notes on receipts provided with the account statements show that many of the meals were with town supervisors or other town employees including office staff and were related to town business in some way.
Some of the outings were for special occasions. For Secretarys Day 2002, the towns six office staff members were treated to a meal with the mayor, two at a time, at Trio Brick Oven in Greenville.
Other charges include food items or gift certificates for birthdays for town employees.
According to information provided on the statements, the town pays an average of $178 each month for meals for the mayor and staff or others he meets with.
Records show some of the charges were for meetings with County employees or following County meetings. Several receipts are for administrative or business related meals with no other details provided.
Among charges for the town are meals the mayor had with former Police Chief Richard Turner, Rep. Michael Thompson, victims advocate Holly Henderson, councilmen, and others.
Meals were also provided for the election committee. A Thanksgiving meal was also provided for town employees, records show.
The Town paid $1,540.70 for a Christmas dinner for supervisors and staff at the Peddler in Greenville in Dec. 2002.
The Town also held a separate Christmas dinner for other town employees which was not charged to the credit card.
Other charges on the Towns credit card reflected purchases for decorations at the municipal center including $262.50 for a carpet for Council Chambers from the Statehouse Gift shop, various picture frames and other decorations and office supplies.
Charges shown on the statement also include overnight Municipal Association meetings held in Columbia or Charleston, attended annually by the mayor and councilmembers and other seminars.
The total credit card charges for 2001 amounted to $10,910.05, and $15,565.80 for 2002.
In comparison, the Towns former mayor also enjoyed meals at Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, and the Cracker Barrel on a regular basis.
Credit Card statements from 1995-1998, also requested under FOI guidelines, show former Williamston mayor Marion Middleton averaged about four charges per month on the towns credit card for restaurants, with each transaction averaging $43.99.
The statements also show numerous charges to restaurants in Charleston and Myrtle Beach. There were no receipts provided with any of the statements.
The mayors vehicle and related expenses including gas, are also provided by the Town.
There are no formal guidelines in effect restricting use of the towns credit card or the mayors vehicle, official said.
*Correction - The original Credit Card article appearing in The Journal incorrectly reported the Town of Williamston paid for a meal for the susquicentennial committee. The town did not pay for a meal for the committee. The susquicentennial committee is made up of a group of citizens who paid for all related activities for the year long celebration through donations, sale of souvenirs and other fundraising events and activites were funded at no cost to the town, committee members said.
However- The credit card statment
did show a charge for a tuxedo rental for the susquicentennial
A Belton man is facing multiple charges in connection with a traffic stop last week in which a blue Chevrolet truck was observed on Main St. travelling at a high rate of speed and weaving in and out of traffic.
Robby Paul Meredith, 25, 2271 Cannon Bottom Rd., Belton, was arrested May 14 for driving under the influence (more than 1st), simple possession of marijuana, driving under suspension (more than 1st), improper vehicle license, open container, concealed weapon and operating an uninsured vehicle.
A passenger in the vehicle, Allison Elaine Southerland, 18, 2271 Cannon Bottom Rd., Belton, was also arrested for simple possession of marijuana.
Officers allegedly found a knife, a Taurus 9 mm pistol and a Witness Defender .45 cal. in the vehicle. Reports also state that a clear plastic baggie containing approximately 3 grams of a green leafy like substance believed to be marijuana and one cigarette paper containing a green leafy like substance believed to be marijuana. D. Munger, J. T. Motes investigated.
May 13 - Michael Brian Clayton, 39, 123 Lynchburg Circle, Liberty, was arrested for unsafe equipment and driving under suspension (more than 1st) after a black Honda was observed on N. Hamilton St. with a cracked windshield and a slick right tire. S. W. Dooley investigated.
May 8 - Van Wilton Williams, 65, 33 McAlister St., Williamston reported a utility trailer and a Lawn Chief lawn mower valued at $1,300 taken from the residence. R. S. Turner investigated.
May 6 - Juanita Rile Jones, 53, 3 Crescent St., Williamston reported a license plate valued at $15 stolen from a 2001 Pontiac parked at the residence. S. W. Dooley investigated.
Anderson county Sheriffs Deputies investigated the following:
May 19 Bi-Lo, 3518 Earle E. Morris, Jr. Hwy., Greenville, reported three separate incidents in which carpet cleaners totaling $3900 in value were rented and not returned.
J. W. Lindsey investigated.
May 19 Precision Weaving, 1350 Shiloh Church Rd., Piedmont, reported a digital gram scale valued at $230 stolen. C. Diaz investigated.
May 19 David Lee Owens, 64, 203 Two Notch Trail, Easley, reported jewelry and boots valued at $1413 stolen. A. M. Rivest investigated.
May 19 Teresa Gail Randolph, 48, 896 Sheffield Rd., Easley, reported a purse and its contents valued at $120 stolen from a shopping cart. R. Burns investigated.
May 18 Terry Mobley, 22, 515 Three and Twenty Rd., Easley, reported a stereo system valued at $1700 stolen. J. W. Lindsey investigated.
May 17 Don Kryston, 52, 210 West View North, Piedmont, reported that assorted power tools valued at $745 were stolen from a storage building. J. W. Lindsey investigated.
May 17 Eckerd Drugs, 3441 Earle E. Morris, Jr. Hwy., Easley, reported that a customer took an assortment of antacids valued at $65 and left without paying. J. W. Lindsey investigated.
May 17 - Gregory Carlton Phillips, 33, 116 Poore Rd., Pelzer, reported a John Deere riding lawn mower valued at $2600 stolen from his carport. D. B. Anderson investigated,
May 16 Angels Salon, 2404A Anderson Dr., Williamston, reported that a customer took hair care products valued at $28 and left without paying. Kimberly Michelle Cruse, 32, 356 H. I. Taylor Road, Williamston, was charged with shoplifting and transported to the Anderson County Detention Center. C. Diaz investigated.
May 16 Cynthia Hatcher Todd, 38, 321 Shenandoah Rd., Easley, reported that someone broke a safety chain on a back door and took miscellaneous items valued at $453. Andrew Marshal Pearcy, 19, and Robert McConnel Hobart, 19, with no fixed addresses were charged with burglary and transported to the Anderson County Detention Center. M. D. Campbell investigated.
May 16 Ingles, 10903 Anderson Rd., Piedmont, reported that a customer placed three cans of beer valued at $8.75 in her purse and attempted to leave without paying. Heather Lynn Burgess, 28, 610 Cardinal Dr., Easley, was put on trespass notice, charged with shoplifting and transported to the Anderson County Detention Center. J. R. Jones investigated.
May 16 Karen Sizemore Gambrell, 39, 202 Timms Rd., Piedmont, reported that someone took a cell phone and a purse and its contents valued at $221 from her vehicle. D. M. Patten investigated.
May 15 William Chad Morgan, 30, 150 Pine Trail Rd., Williamston, reported that someone took a 5 X 12 landscape trailer and tools valued at $1050. J. T. Owens investigated.
May 15 SYS Constructors, 20 Brozzini Ct., Greenville, reported that someone took tools and equipment valued at $789 from a work truck. M. J. Gregory investigated.
Several Anderson County officials including County Auditor Anna Marie Brock, Mike Freeman, County Council District Seven Representative Cindy Wilson and County Attorney Tom Martin, were featured speakers at a forum in Williamston Monday.
The forum was held in the Williamston Municipal Center to answer questions and discuss reassessment and budget issues facing County residents.
According to Martin, reassessment is required by state law every five years. However, it can be postponed for one year, which Martin pointed out the County did last year.
Martin said that once the assessment has been completed, all taxing entities, including the County, are required to adjust their millage levy to exactly offset the increase or decrease of the reassessment.
It is a balancing act, Martin said. It has to balance exactly so that you start the tax year the same as the last year.
Martin said Anderson County will adopt a budget, then set the levy to meet that budget.
Some political subdivisions, including the County, are required to adopt a budget by June 30, which creates a problem, since the tax base, which comes from the State, may not be known until September.
You cant roll back until you have the exact millage, Martin said. County Council sets the budget and then the millage rate is set to collect that amount of dollars.
According to Martin, reassessment is completely separate from tax bills.
Martin said property values have to be assessed at between 85 and 105 percent of the assessed value.
According to County Appraiser Mike Freeman, the County usually bases assessed valued on 86 to 90 percent of the appraised value.
Freeman said the review process includes reviewing every property in the county to make sure it has not changed in value. We use market sales in the surrounding area for comparison, he said.
He also said there are a lot of things that could affect values such as a property being undervalued in the last assessment.
Appraisals are based on a mass appraisal, Freeman said, and land values can push the market value up, he said.
He said cost tables are used with adjustments made for older buildings.
You have to ask, is it a fair value on the property, Freeman said.
The guideline often used is: If I put property on the market, would I take that amount for it. According to Freeman, 90 percent would say no.
The County Auditor also stated that senior citizens 65 years or older, or totally disabled or legally blind who have lived in the state for at least one year may qualify for a homestead exemption which amounts to up to $100,000 on the house you live in.
Questions about other options led to statements by the County attorney.
Martin said he thought a 2 cent sales tax would be dangerous for the Countys schools because the amount is spread across the State and growing counties, such as Anderson, would get less each year.
Martin also said that he thought a local option sales tax would better suit Anderson County because it is a regional shopping area.
Freeman said that anyone who didnt agree with their reassessment notice or having a question concerning their reassessment notice could appeal it.
This can be done in writing or in person by the July 30 deadline, Freeman said.
For more information on Anderson County reassessment, check out the Anderson County website at www.andersoncounty.org.
A split vote approved the $88 million budget for fiscal year 2003-2004 at a called meeting of the Anderson County Council Tuesday to handle the third reading of the budget ordinance.
A large number of citizens filled council chambers to voice their opposition to the proposed budget and the reassessment process in the meeting which began at 5:30 p.m.
After two hours of discussion and explanation, the final council vote supported the budget ordinance. Council members Cindy Wilson and Larry Greer maintained their opposition to the budget while remaining members supported the proposal.
County Attorney Tom Martin explained that reassessment and taxes are two totally separate issues. According to Martin, reassessment is mandated by the state and must happen every five years. Assessments must be based on fair market value of property. Property owners may appeal the assessment if they feel that it does not represent the actual value of their property, Martin said.
When the reassessment process is completed next fall, the county is required to roll back the tax millage to remain revenue neutral according to Martin. At that point, the process begins to determine the millage rate which involves every political entity in the county. According to Martin, the county can only control about 30% of the total decision-making process. Martin explained that the current budget ordinance sets in process the new millage rate which will be determined in the fall.
Council member Clint Wright requested that the council receive a mid-year financial progress report before the millage is set.
Questioning consulting fees and contract labor, Wilson requested a real budget-tightening exercise and made a motion to send the budget back to the administrator for further review. A council vote did not support Wilsons motion. Wilson and Greer supported the motion while remaining members opposed.
Sharing concerns about the budget, Greer added that he had found $800,000 that he thought could be cut. Council member Gracie Floyd described budget cuts as a band-aid.
Chairman Bill Dees requested that County Administrator Joey Preston read a letter that he had written to the legislative delegation detailing losses in revenue due to changes in state tax policy. Referencing the loss in video poker license fees, the loss in vehicle taxes, and a loss in Local Government Fund revenue from the state, Preston accounted for a loss of more than $6 million in revenue.
A disappointed audience voiced obvious disapproval as the council voted to support the budget ordinance and adjourn the special meeting.
Council member Joe Turner proposed an ordinance calling for an election to be held to determine the form of government to be used by the Town of West Pelzer in the regular council meeting on May 13.
Turner said that he had received a request from town employees that the town consider a change in its form of government.
Council member Maida Kelly questioned whether the change would require hiring a town manager which she said the town could not afford. Turner stated that the change would not require hiring a town manager.
Mayor Bill Alexander commented that he supported any protection for the employees of the town.
Originally, Turners motion died for lack of support, but additional discussion prompted Kelly to offer a second to Turners motion.
A subsequent council vote supported the first reading of the ordinance calling for a town election.
At the request of Turner, Town Clerk Wanda Sutherland read the procedure for Conduct of Meetings. No discussion or comments followed.
The council also voted to contract with Roger Scott at $22.61/ton to handle a spring garbage pickup tentatively scheduled for the week of May 26-30. More details about items to be picked up and specific dates will be announced later.
Copies of the proposed budget for 2003-2004 were presented to the council. Council member Earl Brown motioned to accept the budget with a second by Turner. A council vote supported the motion.
The council also discussed several problems with potholes after Kelly requested that the item be listed on the agenda due to complaints from citizens. Sutherland mentioned several complaints from businesses about paving problems which have caused water to collect in driveways.
The council then moved into an executive session to discuss legal matters. Immediately after the executive session, the meeting adjourned.
The Piedmont Public Service District Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the second reading of the budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2004 at their monthly meeting on May 19.
The budget shows estimated revenues at $1,087,395 for all departments with total estimated expenditures of $1,036,083 leaving an estimated surplus of $51,312.
Millage rates remain unchanged at .055 for the fire department, .024 for the sewer and light department, and .002 for the recreation department.
Chief Administrator Butch Nichols reported that a new granite marker had been purchased for the Pack Park. Anderson County contributed $625 to the cost of the marker. Members of the Pack family were at the meeting to present a check for the balance of the cost of the marker.
Nichols also reported that four video cameras are in operation at the park. Signs indicating that the cameras are in place will soon be added according to Nichols.
Chairman Marsha Rogers reported that the mens softball league is having games at the park every Tuesday and Friday night from 6:30 9:30 p.m.
Nichols said that he and Rusty Burns met with local legislators in Columbia to discuss a sewer grant to help with the study of the town mandated by the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Previous funds amounting to $90,000 were taken away from the district due to budget concerns.
Nichols advised that the person contacted to do the gutter repair at the Community Building does not have workmans compensation or liability insurance which is required by the state to do the work.
In response to complaints expressed at the last board meeting, Nichols reported that the sewer lines on Dill Drive had been smoked and showed no leaks.
Nichols also advised the board that a full-time sewer employee will be needed at some point in the future to meet DHEC requirements.
The board scheduled their next meeting for June 16 when a third reading of the budget will be held.