News Archive

(2805) Week of July 13, 2005

Week of July 13, 2005

Audit report not available to public
Deficit continues for TownWilliamston audit shows
Council hears report on skate park interest
Council tables Cedar Grove zoning request, chides media
West Pelzer Council members sworn in Monday
Man sentenced for Piedmont bank robbery
Sheriff’s office continues upgrades
New auditor starting with clean slate

BONUS STORY

Auditors suggest areas that need addressing

Audit report not available to public

The 2004 financial audit for the Town of Williamston is in the hands of the Mayor and Council but is not being made available to the public at this time.

Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy acknowledged Monday that council members had been given the audit which he said was a “draft” copy which would not be made public until council members had the opportunity to look it over.

Once in the hands of governmental officials, documents such as audits are considered “public documents” according to the South Carolina Freedom of Information act, and are required to be made available to the public and press.

Clardy said a copy of the audit would be made available to The Journal this Friday.

Council members declined to comment on the report Monday, other than saying they had just received it and had not had the opportunity to look it over.

Though Clardy stated the report was a draft copy, the town’s auditor said that town officials had the final report.

Larry Finney of the accounting firm Greene, Finney and Horton, LLP told The Journal that the “final” audit had been sent to the town approximately 10 days ago and that the report on the town’s financial condition “was not favorable.”

Finney said the audit shows there is an ongoing concern with the Town’s financial situation and that the financial condition of the municipality was “not very good.”

Many of the town’s residents have been anticipating the 2004 audit report which was expected in April of this year.

Delays in getting information from the town as well as commitments the accounting firm had at the time the information was provided resulted in the delay, according to Finney.

Finney said he expects to meet with town officials soon to discuss the results of the audit.

Clardy said Town Council will probably meet with Finney at the next meeting, August 1.

The audit was not mentioned during the regular meeting of Council Monday, which included a 45 minute executive session to discuss “contractural and legal matters.”

Based on financial reports of previous years under Clardy, the audit is expected to show the town is in further financial difficulty.

Payments to creditors were routinely being held during 2004 and the town borrowed an additional $350,000 at the end of the year to meet ongoing expenses including payroll. The note is due within one year.

That borrowing, coupled with ongoing expenditures, is expected to show the town is an additional $300,000 or more in debt by year end 2004.

The audit is also expected to show accountability problems associated with accounting practices being used by the town and the police department during 2004.

Deficit continues for Town audit shows

Even though many of the town’s residents have been anticipating the 2004 audit report which was expected in April of this year, Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy decided not to make the audit available to the public and press earlier this week.

It  is not surprising since a copy of the audit obtained by The Journal shows that the trend of fund deficits the town has experienced under Clardy’s leadership continued during 2004.

According to the audit the town experienced a deficit of $329,468, resulting in the fund balance for the Town’s general fund dropping to $411,498.

Larry Finney of  Greene, Finney and Horton, LLP told The Journal that the audit shows there is an ongoing concern with the Town’s financial situation and that the financial condition of the municipality was “not very good.”

Again the Town experienced over spending of $222,635 with revenues of $3,618,751 exceeded by expenses of $3,841,386.

On a positive note, the Town’s long term obligations decreased by $124,563. But the town’s short term notes payable increased by $350,000 due to a bond anticipation note (BAN) issue which was used to pay for operational expenses and to meet payroll obligations at the end of the year. The note is due within less than one year.

With that issue, the town’s credit is also about maxed out.

The State of  South Carolina limits the amount of general obligation debt that a government can issue to 8% of the total assessed value of taxable property located within that government’s boundaries.

According to the audit, the Town’s debt limit as of December 31, 2004 was approximately $666,000 based on an approximate assessed value of $8.33 million. $657,705 of the Town’s debt applies to that limit, leaving the available debt margin at $8,295, according to the audit.

As of December 2004, the town owed $68,000 on the 2001 GO bond, $17,164 on the 2003 fire fighting lease, and $45,299 on a police vehicle lease.

The 2001 GO Bond was originally $250,000. 

The 2002 Capital Lease for fire fighting equipment was for $204,742 with 10 year payments of $26,428.

The lease was refinanced in October of 2002 and included additional fire fighting equipment in the amount of $115,000. The new lease is for 10 years with annual payments of $28,148 at an interest rate of 5.38 percent.

The 2002 Capital Lease for police vehicles was for $177,409. It is a 4 year lease with annual payments of $47,371 at an interest rate of 4.57 percent.

Since Clardy took office in 2000, the town has experienced reductions in the general fund balance in each of his four years as the Town’s CEO.

Reductions include: 2001, ($74,618); 2002, ($398,995); 2003, ($148,733) and 2004, ($329,468).  

The Town’s fund balance in 2001 when Clardy took over the Mayor’s office was $1,239,800.  It has now been reduced to $411,498.

The report pointed out several concerns.  As of December 31, 2004, the unrestricted cash balance available for the town was $242,350, however, $157,600 of that was from the proceeds of the short-term GO (BAN) note payable taken out by the town on December 30.

Other concerns mentioned in the audit include the fact that the town cut costs in 2004 but still ended with a deficit.

Also in 2005, the Town reduced the millage rate to 106 mills due to reassessment which will have a negative impact on property revenues for the Town in 2005.

Management letters provided with the audit indicate the town has other problems which need to be addressed including accountability problems associated with accounting practices being used by the Town and police department.

Council is expected to meet with Finney to discuss the results of the audit at their next meeting, August 1.

Council hears report on skate park interest

Williamston Town Council approved an emergency response resolution, heard about a proposed housing development and heard a report on interest in a skate board park for the town Monday.

Prior to the regular meeting, Council held a worksession in which items on the agenda were briefly discussed.

During the regular meeting which began at 6 p.m., Council heard a report by Steven Webb, an intern with the Town who is also heading a skate board project looking at the interest and feasibility of providing a skate board and BMX bike facility in the town.

Members of the group reported the results of a survey which included responses from 56 committee members who have expressed an interest in the idea.

Webb said those committee members attending the weekly meeting range in age from 11 to 43, with the majority being teenagers.

Questions on the survey ranged from interest and support in building and supervising a facility, where and how often they participate in the sport, to number of police warning and tickets issued to them.

Webb, a graduate of Palmetto High School and a student at Lander University, is the project facilitator for the skate park committee. He said the committee meets each week on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at the Williamston Municipal Center.

Council accepted the presentation as information.

Council heard from Ken Tinsley, an engineer representing various clients, who asked for Council support or direction for him to provide a feasibility report to developers interested in a possible project in Williamston.

Tinsley told Council his client has an option on property located in the Town and had questions concerning infrastructure service to the property and whether Council would support it or not.

Tinsley said the development calls for up to 50 houses which he described as small and for retirees and empty nesters. He said the price range would be approximately $100,000, plus or minus $25,000.

Mayor Phillip Clardy responded that the project has to go through three separate stages including rezoning from R1 to R2, planning commission approval and presentation to Council for a final vote.

Clardy told Tinsley a vote could possibly come before Council by the next meeting.

Business owner Dan Belk asked Council about the status of the downtown revitalization plan.

Clardy responded the grant application was submitted June 16 with a stipulation that it preserved parking on Main St.

“All of the parts are in place for it to happen,” Clardy said. He also said the Town will notify merchants when something is known.

Belk also asked about the crosswalk and possibly increasing police patrols in the East Main St. area.

During the discussion, Williamston Police Chief David Baker stated that there is a misconception about pedestrians in the crosswalk.

He said according to the law, a pedestrian has to physically be in the crosswalk before a motorist is required to yield or stop.

Council approved a request to use the amphitheater in Mineral Spring Park on Sept. 17 for an outdoor concert including country and gospel music.

Council then went into executive session to discuss a contractural and legal matter, according to Clardy.

Returning approximately 45 minutes later, Clardy stated no action had been taken in the executive session.

He then reported that paving had been finished on Williams St. It was the first time the entire street has been repaved, he said.

Acting on a recommendation made by Town Attorney Richard Thompson, Council postponed taking action on a controlled substance abuse policy for the town.

Williamston Fire Chief Steve Ellison asked Council to approve a resoluntion in support of a NIMS Homeland Security Directive. 

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) resoultion  states the town agrees to cooperate with fire, police and EMS on the local, state and federal levels should a major incident occur locally.

Ellison said NIMS provides a consistent approach for public safety and also allows the town to apply for grant funding. The resolution was unanimously approved.

Council approved a request by a representative of Beech Springs Tabernacle who asked for use of the Mineral Spring Park Amphitheater for an event on August 13. The event will include basketball goals, hotdogs and games and other acitivities.

Council tables Cedar Grove zoning request, chides media

By Stan Welch

Zoning issues, charity, and scoffing at the local print media were the highlights of last week’s County Council meeting, as Council caught its breath after completing adoption of the 2005-06 budget.

The zoning issue centered around a development in the Cedar Grove district, near the intersection of Youth Center Road and Susie Road. 

The developer, John Cox, dba Williamston Properties, originally asked that the zoning be changed from R-A (residential agriculture) to R-20 single family residential.

The citizens’ advisory committee suggested a change from R-20 to R-40, which would reduce the number of lots by approximately one-third. They suggested the change as a compromise after both their committee and the county planning staff recommended denial of the request, as being inconsistent with the County’s land use plan.

Several citizens spoke in support of the compromise, despite expressing concerns about increased traffic on the area’s roads, which bear a great deal of traffic to and from the nearby Anderson Regional Landfill.

David Burriss, representing Williamston Properties, addressed the Council, explaining that he could not accept the compromise zoning designation. “The buyer won’t reduce his price, and without that, we can’t really make the development pay with the smaller number of lots.”

After considerable discussion, Councilwoman Cindy Wilson, who represents the area in question, offered a motion to table the request and allow time to try and work out a compromise. The vote was 5-1-1 to table.

 Another small tract in Wilson’s district was down zoned from commercial C-2  to residential R-20 to allow the construction of a house on existing family property.

The charity vote centered around a request for funding from Camp Providence. 

Ramona Bowles appeared seeking $5,000 for the camp, which provides day activities for abused children from across the county. The camp transports children to their site on Lake Hartwell, where it conducts activities, feeds the children, and provides support.

Bowles stated that the camp receives 150 kids a day, running four round trips to various areas of the county. 

“If there’s a single kid somewhere who needs us, we’ll go get them. We never have turned a child away. Many of these kids go to bed to the sound of gunshots, or wake up to the sound of gunshots.”

Appropriations by Council members Greer ($500), Wilson ($500), Thompson ($1,000), McAbee ($500) and Floyd ($1,000) brought the camp close to their needed funds. Floyd promised Bowles, “We fell a little short tonight, but we’ll get there.”

Chiding of the local print media took place during the Council Members remarks at the end of the agenda. 

Councilman Greer asked County Administrator Joey Preston to  clarify a report in a local newspaper, The Greenville News, which stated that county funds were being used to support the CAT bus.

Preston responded saying that “The article was not correct, as usual. Every penny of the $593,515 is paid for by federal grant money. The article also said that 1% of the systems riders come from Anderson. That’s not true, it’s 26%.”

Greer than asked for clarification of an article in The Willamston Journal that quoted councilwoman Cindy Wilson as saying that fines imposed by the Corps of Engineers  for violations during the Beaverdam sewer project may have exceeded $100,000.

Preston had project manager Dewey Pearson step to the microphone to announce that a COE inspection of the repairs and restoration efforts along Phases 1 and 1B of Beaverdam had been completed.  “Les Parker reviewed our work on Phases 1A and 1B and pronounced it satisfactory. Furthermore, there have been no monetary fines levied against Anderson County, and there won’t be any.”

The Journal has requested an accounting for the cost to the County of restoring and repairing damage done during the project but to date has not received the information.

COE policy normally allows violators to restore and repair in lieu of fines. 

Those violations, which have now been addressed  were steadfastly and repeatedly denied by County officials, including Pearson, Greer, Floyd and Preston, even after the County’s receipt of a cease and desist order threatening Department of Justice actions.

Chairperson Gracie Floyd then made a point of asking Greer  “Where would I find those stories, Mr. Greer?” He responded that the CAT story was in the Greenville paper, while the Beaverdam story was in The Williamston Journal.

“Oh, The Williamston Journal,” she said. “Well, I don’t read that paper. In fact the other day, someone sent me an article from that paper and I read about a paragraph of it. When I realized they were setting out to tear down Gracie Floyd, I just threw it away.”

Floyd later attempted to introduce a news reporter from The Anderson Independent Mail, but unfortunately, she had already left the meeting.

West Pelzer Council members sworn in Monday

By Stan Welch

The West Pelzer Town Council witnessed the swearing in of its two newest members Tuesday night, including incumbent Joe Turner and write-in candidate Marshall King.

Both men were sworn in by Jimmy King, former town attorney and son of  Councilman Marshall King. Tammy Turner held the Bible for her husband’s swearing in, while Marshall King’s daughter-in-law Jovanna King assisted in his swearing in.

The swearing in brought the Council back to a total of four. A special election is slated for August 30 to fill the seat of Councilman Terry Davis who passed away unexpectedly in June.

Rey McClain and Pete Davis have filed for the seat.

The Council also conducted a little business following the swearing in ceremonies. 

First reading approval was unanimously given to an ordinance to annex the property at 7 James Street. They also heard a request to change the zoning on a property at 2-A Tasha Drive, which would separate a business from an adjacent home, so that the home could be sold separately.

Under old business, Councilwoman Maida Kelly followed up on a previous request to place decals or lettering on the town’s police cars, saying, “A number of citizens have asked for it, so they can tell who’s police and who’s not.” Council approved that motion.

Marshall King wasted no time, raising the question of monies that were received by the town for the purchase of a drug dog. He said that a number of donors had asked him the status of the effort to buy the dog. “We need to either buy the dog or return these folks their money,” said King.

Mayor Peggy Paxton reported that the special fund has a little over $300 in it, far less than the cost of such a dog. “I agree. We need to do something about this,” she said.

Council voted to allow a 90 day period for the town’s citizens who had contributed to make their wishes known.

The agenda was then amended to include some new business that had come up after the agenda was published. 

First on the list was the payment to Dunn & Dunn  Engineering for engineering costs on the water line extension project. 

The bill was for $33,000; an amount the city has not yet raised. 

Several months ago, District 7 County Councilwoman Cindy Wilson appropriated $29,000 from her paving funds to be used as the match funds for the $500,000 grant that funds the project. No further funds have been received from the county since then.

 Mayor Paxton stated that Dunn & Dunn had agreed to accept a partial payment, in light of the funding situation. She moved that the town pay the firm $25,000, a motion which was approved unanimously. The mayor added that the only holdup in beginning construction at this time is DHEC’s final approval. “It should be any day now,” said the Mayor.

Council also renewed their contract with Upstate Sanitation for garbage pickup. The cost of the contract increased by $1400, but the Council agreed that the company had been doing a good job, and chose to renew.

Man sentenced for Piedmont bank robbery

Three men have been sentenced in connection with three separate armed bank robberies including the Commercial Bank in Piedmont.

Derrick Earl Miller, 25, Henry Earl Miller, 30, and Allen Earl Jones, 20, all of Greenville, were sentenced June 24 in Federal Court in Spartanburg for armed bank robbery.

United States District Judge Henry R. Floyd sentenced Derrick Earl Miller to 754 months (62 years, 10 months) imprisonment followed by 5 years of supervised release. Henry Earl Miller was sentenced to 300 months (25 years) imprisonment followed by five years of supervised release and Allen Earl Jones was sentenced to 96 months followed by 5 years of supervised release.

Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that on August 2, 2003, Derrick Miller entered the NBSC Bank, John B. White Blvd. in Spartanburg, with a gun. He ordered bank employees to the floor while Henry Miller collected money from the teller stations. They fled the bank with the money.

On October 31, 2003, Derrick Miller entered the Commercial Bank in Piedmont, with Allen Earl Jones, Michael Lewis Hawkins and Derell Johnson.

Again Miller held bank employees at gunpoint and ordered them to the floor while Hawkins and Johnson collected the money from the teller stations and Allen Jones acted as a look out. They then fled the bank.

Both Hawkins and Johnson had previously entered guilty pleas and were sentenced for their involvement in the Commercial Bank robbery.

On December 23, 2003, Derrick Miller entered the Capital Bank on Wade Hampton Blvd. and ordered bank employees to the floor while Henry Miller gathered money from teller stations.

The case was investigated by agents of the FBI, Spartanburg Public Safety Office, Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, Greenville Police Dept. Assistant US Attorneys Walt Wilkins and Jeanne Howard of the Greenville office handled the case.

Sheriff’s office continues upgrades

By Stan Welch

The Anderson County Sheriff’s Office continues to modernize and upgrade its approach to law enforcement. The latest improvements are aimed at crime analysis, with an eye towards more efficient use of patrol resources.

Lt. Don Brookshire  is one of the people spearheading that effort, which centers around two software programs which complement each other to produce a more comprehensive crime picture than either could produce alone.

PD Manager allows for the compilation and categorizing of various crimes, such as assault, auto theft, burglary and others. 

All incident reports submitted by patrol officers go into a Windows based system, which sorts and  records the files. 

The program is system-wide, meaning that it is accessible from every PC and terminal in the department; an  improvement which Brookshire says has helped everyone become comfortable with the new program. It is also used in compiling and reporting monthly crime statistics to SLED, and eventually to the FBI.

The other program is Thinkmap, which utilizes the countywide GIS map which is already  on the Department’s computers. The PD manager program works in conjunction with Thinkmap to display the locations listed on police reports in an overlay on the GIS map, thereby showing hot spots, or clusters, of specific crimes.

For example, if several meth labs are busted in an area, that will show up on the map, telling police officials where to concentrate their resources.

In addition, if there is a series of burglaries in an area, and the incident reports consistently mention a vehicle or a person of a certain description, patrol officers can be advised to watch for those particular things.

Perhaps the names of certain suspects show up in several reports of a particular crime in the area. Those suspects can be surveilled, and their activities and associates can be noted..

Brookshire says that the new approach is “in the bricklaying phase right now. We have a lot of work to do.” 

Included in that work is the training both he and two other staff members will receive in a  two  week criminal intelligence analyst course they will be attending soon.

The course, taught by SLED, will teach them to collate and analyze the data, which is already being done on a rudimentary basis at the ACSO. 

“Even with the limited training we have, it’s easy to see how effective this approach will be when we are up to speed on it. It will be a really valuable tool in allocating our resources, and focusing our efforts,”said Lt. Brookshire.

“Sheriff Crenshaw and Chief Busha are strong believers in the idea that we are here to serve the people of Anderson County, and this allows us to do that more efficiently.”

New auditor starting with clean slate

By Stan Welch

Everybody cleans out their desk when they’re leaving a job; but recently newly elected Anderson County Auditor Jacky Hunter found that tradition taken to a new level by his predecessor, Anna Marie Brock.

When he arrived on July 1 to assume his office, Hunter found nothing in his office but a chair and an empty desk, with a handful of pennies in the drawer. “I gave those to the prisoners they sent over to help us move furniture,” said Hunter, laughing about the situation during a recent interview.

Gone was the computer and any hard copy records or files that had accumulated in the office. 

As Hunter said, “All the mail on my desk has come into the office since I took over on July 1. It hasn’t been the best of situations even before this. I came by the Auditor’s office in early June to get acquainted and try to find out who would be staying on and who might be leaving. Ms. Brock escorted me from the office even then, saying it was still her office.”

Hunter, who served as Anderson County’s Finance Director for 12 years before being terminated by County Administrator Joey Preston , says he isn’t pointing fingers at anyone.

“It’s an unusual situation, at least in my experience. I would think that all such information belonged to the office, and not the elected official, but there’s plenty to do without worrying about that.”

Hunter eventually prevailed in a wrongful termination lawsuit against the county.

Indeed, Hunter says his job is to do the job. “This is a good experienced staff, and we will continue to perform our duties. We need to build credibility with the taxpayers, and treat everyone fairly and professionally,” he said.

Hunter has three senior staff members each with twenty or more years experience. 

Still, he wishes the duplication of effort he and his staff face wasn’t necessary. 

“If there was an existing spread sheet for a FILOT (fee in lieu of taxes) arrangement, for example, why should I have to reinvent the wheel? If the form was workable, we could have just plugged in the necessary changes.”

He also is concerned that an absence of pertinent information might affect the setting of the tax levy later this fall. “It would be nice to know everything there is to know before setting the levy.”

Auditors suggest areas that need addressing

In the 2004 audit for the Town of Williamston, the auditing firm of Greene, Finney & Horton,LLP. Certified Public Accountants, suggested several ways the town could improve internal controls resulting in better operation of the town.

The accounting firm made numerous recommendations for improving accounting and other procedures for the town and the police department that would aide in the detection of accounting errors and reduce the risk of fraud in both departments.

Management letters accompanying the audit report state the town has “procedural weaknesses” regarding bank account deposits, approval of time cards and hours worked, applying employee health insurance equally to all employees, recording cash accounts and related activity on the ledger in a timely manner, purchasing and purchase orders and capital asset record keeping and reconciliation.

The auditors suggested controls should include: deposit all cash receipts in the bank’s night drop depository on a daily basis; have appropriate independent personnel properly approve all time cards and review hours worked for reasonableness; verify that health insurance benefits are being applied to all employees in the same manner in accordance with town policies and procedures; record all new bank accounts and related activitiy for those accounts and current accounts in a timely manner.

Auditors also suggested the town implement a purchasing process and system that includes purchasing limits that requires vendors names and detailed information on what is being purchased. They also suggested the purchasing system should require approval by responsible and appropriate personnel of all purchase orders prior to Town funds being obligated.

There were several conditions mentioned relating to the Police Department, which operated under former Chief Troy Martin including not tracking and recording police fines and tickets on a timely basis; police fines not being deposited on a timely basis; excess cash being held at the police station; police fine information not being submitted to the SC State Treasurer’s office in a timely manner and no reconciliation of traffic ticket numbers and tickets issued.

The report states that having adequate staff and proper internal controls will aide in the detection of errors and reducing the risk of fraud.

Auditors recommended hiring and keeping adequate staff to track and record police fines and tickets and deposit police fines collected on a daily basis to ensure no cash is being held in the police department.

The report also suggests that the town submit their required monthly reports to the SC State Treasurer’s office in a timely manner and to reconcile traffic ticket numbers to the tickets that have beeen issued on a timely basis.

The management letters also state that the auditors became aware of numerous areas of potential increases and effectiveness that could be achieved concerning the financial condition of the Town.

According to the auditing firm,  Administration appears to be overstaffed and in some cases over compensated based upon comparisons to other municipalities of similar size.

It states that there are significant costs involved with overtime for employees and problems with document retention and record keeping.

The report recommends the town consider internally evaluating staffing, comparing to similar sized municipalities in order to see if some administration expenses could be decreased.

It also recommended a review of employees receiving overtime and whether or not the overtime is appropriate. Also the town should consider placing eligible employees on a salary and suggests implementing an improved document filing and retention process.

The report also indicates that the town was out of compliance concerning IRS regulations related to compensation received by volunteer firefighters.

The report states that compensation received by volunteer fire fighters should be considered taxable income and anyone receiving more that $600 either be issued a 1099 or W-2 form.  (The only exception to this rule is if the fire fighter is a participating in a state sponsored retirement plan.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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