Week of Aug.
officials looking at towns finances
Williamston officials are taking a closer look at the towns finances in anticipation of a special called meeting next Tuesday. Councilmembers are expected to look at spending and possible cuts before deciding on borrowing proposals being presented by the mayor.
During a special called meeting Monday, Williamston Town Council discussed two borrowing proposals presented by Mayor Phillip Clardy along with several other items concerning the towns future finances.
Mayor Clardy told Council that the topic of discussion on the agenda was bringing financial stability to the town.
At the request of Council, Clardy revised his July 12 request of $550,000, instead asking council to consider borrowing $380,000 in the form of a GO bond to be paid back over a five year term. Clardy said the payments would be $55-$65,000 annually.
Clardy proposed an alternative to borrow $100,000 on a TAN note and $280,000 in the form of a GO bond.
The TAN note would be paid back upon receipt of tax revenues and the GO bond would have annual payments of $50,000 to $60,000 over five years the mayor said.
Clardy said there were several issues facing the town and he wished to begin to address these issues. There will be no quick fixes, he said.
Clardy said he intends to stop the practice of the town beginning each year in debt, a practice he said the town has followed as far as we have records.
Clardy said that the town is dealing with a reduction of revenues and increasing health insurance costs.
The towns budget ordinance for 2004 allows a TAN note not to exceed $500,000.
Other considerations Clardy presented to council include:
The mayor said the town will pay the final payments on the GO bond and the police vehicle lease in 2005 freeing approximately $110,000 in funds next year.
Clardy said he wants council to consider changing the budget year from the current calendar year to a fiscal year running from July to June.
He also wants to establish a debt service fund to repay loans, institute a mandatory hiring freeze, pass a portion of the health insurance benefit cost to employees and increase franchise fees to produce additional revenues.
The mayor also said he wants to hold extensive workshops with the council to reduce the general operations budget by an additional 5% for fiscal year 2005.
Clardy said there may have to be drastic measures. It is easy to say lets cut the budget, but the (trick) is cutting the budget and making it work, he said.
Clardy agreed there are a lot of extras that could be cut.
Examples he gave included the Christmas parade, the Christmas park, the towns Freedom Celebration and the Spring Water Festival.
He also said the town now has the added responsibility of planning these events.
The town has had to do the job, Clardy said. Where are we going to draw the line.
Clardy then said he was open to suggestions.
Councilman Greg Cole said he didnt want to replace anyone. He asked how many of the towns 62 employees could be reduced and if the town could possibly plan to get to 50 employees.
Clardy said he wanted to look at the impact of the 5% budget reduction before considering employee cuts.
Council approved a bracket of salaries equal to the number of positions, Clardy said.
Before considering a downsize, Clardy said the town should first implement a hiring freeze.
Councilman Cecil Cothran said he agreed with the mayors proposal of a hiring freeze.
Cole asked about the percentage of the health insurance and other benefits Clardy was considering passing on to employess.
Clardy responded that the town will have to look at costs and consider the impact of raising the franchise fees.
Cothran said some of the best suggestions for saving money could come from employees. We need to get with the employees for suggestions, he said.
When asked by Councilman Wade Pepper about considering the reduction of employees, Clardy responded that we will not rule anything out.
He then added, Show me where any position is created by council, Clardy said, I cant find where any position is created by council.
Pepper has repeatedly stated that under Home Rule guidelines for South Carolina, any new position with a town had to be created by council.
When Councilman Cothran said he thought the town should consider borrowing on a TAN note, Clardy responded, Next August, I will be sitting before you, or someone will, asking the same request.
It is easier to cut $50,000 - $60,000 than $300,000, the mayor said. If we cut that much we might was well lock the doors. Eighty percent of our budget is personnel, the mayor said.
If we cant cut expenses, well be back in the same situation, Cothran said.
There was some discussion after Councilman Cole questioned Clardys stated payment amount of $50,000 to $60,000. Cole said the payment on $380,000 would be closer to $76,000.
Clardy then said the payment on the original $565,000 request was roughly $80,000. He said the payment could be determined when the amount to borrow was decided and presented to the bank and the interest figured.
Clardy then stated examples of borrowing by the town from 1974 to present.
It is not uncommon for municipalities and school districts to borrow money, Clardy said.
We need to work together collectively, on where to go from here, the mayor said.
Im not saying cut anybodys job, Cothran said. There are a lot of areas we can cut. We need to go back to the drawing board on everything. Then bring it back to the people and let the people know what is going on.
Council agreed to take up the matter at another special called meeting to be held August 17 at 5:30 p.m.
Two citizens were allowed to make public comments during the meeting.
Robert Vaughn commented there could be cost cutting measures including parking city vehicles instead of allowing them to be driven more than 10 miles. Vaughn also stated that, You have to live within your means.
Gary Bannister encouraged council to install a hiring freeze, and have any expenditure over $200 approved by Council. Bannister also asked about FOI requests that he submitted which havent been answered.
Following the meeting, Cothran said he wants to look at the borrowing terms and possible areas to cut.
He said one area the town should begin looking at is the number of police vehicles and possibly establishing guidelines for their use.
He also said, We have to get the facts together on what to do, and how much money to borrow, Cothran said.
Cothran also said he didnt want to raise taxes on the citizens, many of whom are elderly and on fixed income.
The people elected us to do better than the last administration, Cothran said. We have been complacent in the past and allowed the town to go out and borrow the money.
Councilman Wade Pepper said he would like to see all credit cards canceled, spending cut and a cut in personnel.
There have been people hired and placed into new positions that the council must approve and also approve their salary. We have never been consulted about this, Pepper said. Until this is discussed and action taken, we must not even think about putting the town deeper in debt. Let us find out first exactly how we stand.
Listening to Dr. Wayne Fowler talk about education and Anderson School District One, one quickly learns how inseparable the man and the district are.
In fact, the new school superintendent for District One may just be the districts most articulate and ardent supporter.
A lifelong resident of the area, Wayne Fowler grew up in the Beaverdam community, graduated from Palmetto High School and returned to the district in 1971 to teach after he completed a degree in secondary science education at Clemson University.
Love of teaching led me to education, and I have never had a desire to leave District One. I would have stayed in District One no matter what, Fowler says.
He has spent all of his 33 years in education as a teacher, counselor, principal and administrator in District One. Before moving to the district office in 1988, Fowler taught at Spearman Middle and Wren Middle, served as a counselor at Wren Middle, and served as a principal at Pelzer Elementary and Cedar Grove Elementary and as a principal at Spearman Primary.
He began as an administrative assistant for curriculum and instruction the same year that Dr. Reggie Christopher became school superintendent and worked with Christopher until his recent retirement. During that time, Fowler completed an Education Specialist degree in 1990 and a doctorate in 2001.
Christopher announced his retirement in October last year so that Fowler who was chosen as his successor would have ample time to transition into the position.
He has all the qualities to be an excellent superintendent, Christopher says. I dont think our district will miss a beat.
Fowler says that he is excited about serving as superintendent and continuing to improve and build on the foundation that has been built. Im up to the challenge, he reports.
Fowler says he believes in involving stake-holders as much as possible in the decision-making process in education. He believes in listening before making decisions and involving teachers directly in as many decisions as possible.
Parents should know that we value them as a childs #1 teacher. We want them to be involved in the education of their child, to know what is going on and to feel welcome in our schools, Fowler emphasizes.
Looking to the future, Fowler hopes to maintain the districts excellent report card with the State Department of Education. Science and social studies will become a part of the report card, and we will need to develop new strategies in those areas, Fowler says.
Adequately addressing the growth in the district is another challenge Fowler faces. Although Fowler considers the district to be in good shape now with the addition to Cedar Grove Elementary and the Freshman Academy under construction at Palmetto High School, the anticipated increase of 200 to 250 students per year will require an ongoing review of facilities to meet the growing student population, he says.
Another high priority is recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers and staff as well as providing a safe and healthy learning environment for all students, Fowler says.
Fowler attends Tabernacle Baptist Church in Pelzer where he and his wife Judy teach the college and career class. Fowler is also a member of the Pelzer Lions Club which he joined when he was principal at Pelzer Elementary. His wife Judy works with Dr. Pat Patterson in Williamston.
The Fowlers have a son Jonathan who attended Palmetto High School and graduated from Clemson University with a degree in English. He plans to pursue his education and teach at the college level and make me have to pay for his education for the rest of my life, Fowler jokes.
Problems and complaints surfaced last week in the Town of West Pelzer after some citizens received unusually high water bills. Mayor Peggy Paxton reported that even her own water bill totaled $175.
Town employees who were usually responsible for reading meters on the 15th of every month were unable to do the meter reading last month due to other job duties, and the town had contracted with an individual to perform the routine task.
After receiving many complaints, town officials and citizens alike were disturbed to find many variances and inconsistencies in the monthly readings.
Apparently no meter was being read properly, and the citizens are paying because of our workmanship, Mayor Peggy Paxton told the council at their regular meeting Monday.
Paxton said she called auditors for the town to determine how to handle the issue. After consulting with another municipality which had had a similar situation, Paxton recommended that the town start over and charge only minimum billing on every meter for the next billing cycle.
Weve got to have a clean start somewhere, Paxton told the council. Beginning August 15, a team of two readers will verify the reading for each meter serviced by the town, Paxton added. Paxton also proposed that meters be spot-checked periodically after that to verify that readings are correct.
The council unanimously supported Paxtons proposal.
Paxton reported that numbers for the sewer plant are looking really good and improved due to corrective action taken on the part of the town as a result of the recent DHEC hearing.
However, due to the heavy rain last week, Paxton said that a pillar sank down on the main line across the Saluda River and threatened a break in the line.
Engineer Bill Dunn assisted the town in getting contractor Tommy West out quickly to work on the line before the line broke and contaminated the river. Paxton estimated that the cost of the line repairs would be around $2,000.
Paxton said that attorneys hope to have a draft agreement to provide police protection to the Town of Pelzer ready next week.
Paxton also reported that the grant application for the Community Development Block Grant has been completed. A copy of the grant is available at Town Hall, and citizens are encouraged to come by and review the document, Paxton said.
In other business, the council voted unanimously to discontinue a computer agreement with RAM/soft in Columbia after Paxton explained ongoing problems with the project.
After a presentation by Don McCluney at a council meeting in February, the council had voted unanimously to accept a proposal for Windows software upgrades which were designed to provide more capabilities on the town computer.
McCluney said that he would provide an installation plan for payroll, general ledger, accounts payable, billing and receipting programs at a total cost of $3,800. Half of the cost would be paid initially, and the balance would be due after each application was installed, he stated. All programs were to be ready at the beginning of the fiscal year July 1.
This has been a waste of time and money. The paper trail is not very good, and I cant deal with it any more, Paxton said. She added that many hours had been spent on the phone with McCluney in an attempt to correct problems with the system.
Paxton recommended that the town move to Quickbooks Pro for accounting and use RAM/soft only for water billings.
The council also discussed annexing property at the corner of Stewart Street and Palmetto Road and at the corner of Dendy Street and Palmetto Road into the town.
The Police Department supported the proposal so that the town could have jurisdiction on property all the way to Palmetto Road.
Town officials agreed to contact the property owner of both properties to discuss the possibility of annexing the area.
Paxton reported that there are still unpaid taxes which are due by the end of the month. Over $1,000 has been collected in the two weeks after letters were sent out about overdue taxes, Paxton added.
Some taxes have remained unpaid due to deaths or due to property owners moving, Paxton said and reminded the council that a decision will need to be made about whether to write off these taxes.
The council unanimously approved changes to the budget for the Police Department which corrected figures for utilities and building rental. Council also added start up fees of $3,866 to the budget for the new building for the Police Department.
Police Chief Mark Patterson also requested the council approve pursuing a grant from the Department of Justice for up to $27,000 for a new fully-equipped patrol car. The grant would require a 10% match or up to $2,700 from the town, Patterson said.
Patterson proposed that the $6,300 in the budget for vehicle repairs and maintenance be reduced by $2,700 and be reallocated to allow for the matching funds required if the department received the grant. After a motion by Council member Earl Brown, the council unanimously supported Pattersons request.
Council member Maida Kelly proposed that the town assist needy families with children to get back-to-school items. Paxton proposed that the council add the line item to cover the cost of the project to the budget, and the council unanimously supported the motion.
The council voted unanimously to go into executive session to discuss a personnel matter.
After returning to the meeting, a citizen asked about the removal of trees at the end of Dianne Avenue which affect the right of way on the thoroughfare. Paxton explained that according to information she had received it would probably be October before the trees could be removed.
The town has been as much as $90,000 in arrears with the Municipal Association insurance provider which provides the towns property/liability, workers compensation and health insurance coverage.
The towns insurance coverage is provided through the Municipal Assocation of South Carolina Risk Management Services.
Harvey Mathias, Director of Risk Management Services for the MASC said Tuesday that he has been working with the towns treasurer to get caught up on the monthly premiums for the South Carolina Local Government Assurance Group health benefits program.
Mathias said the town was significantly behind but has caught up.
According to Mathias, the amount owed has been reduced to $5,489, though there is a premium due August 20.
The last thing we would want to do is cut off a municipality, Mathias told The Journal.
He said the town is still covered and has not had a lapse in coverage due to the late payment of the premium.
We will do everything we can, but it is not fair to the others who are paying, Mathias said.
The insurance offered through Risk Management Services covers property liablility, workers compensation and health insurance for the town, according to Mathias.
While the health insurance premium has been caught up, the town is still behind on the workers compensation and the property liability invoices.
Mathias said the three insurance programs are self funded municipal insurance programs sponsored by the Municipal Association of South Carolina.
The programs are owned by the participating municipalities and are funded by the financial contributions from the members, Mathias said.
Mathias said he will be meeting with town officials this week to discuss the situation.
For insurance coverages to remain in place, we must receive assurances from the Town of Williamston that invoices will be paid in a timely manner, Mathias said.
A certified letter dated July 26 was sent from Mathias to the town concerning the situation.
The letter states, If some assurance and subsequent follow through, is not provided, the only option left for SCLGAG, SCMIT and /or SCMIRF will be to cancel coverage for nonpayment. I can assure you this is the last thing we want to do to the Town and your employees - to leave you without adequate medical, workers compensation, and property/liability protection.
Mathias said there is no deadline for insurance coverage for a municipality to be cut off if payment is not made. He also said this type situation does not arise often.
It is not the norm by any means, Mathias said.
The Risk Management director said the Town of Williamston has not been without coverage due to the late payment, however the processing of claims was stopped.
We never cancelled the coverage, we dont want that to happen, Mathias said. We want to continue to provide benefits and do everything we can to work with the town.
Councilman Wade Pepper said, as far as he knew, members of Council have not been told by the mayor that there has been a problem with making the premium payments.
Mayor Clardy last week told The Journal that the town is currently able to make payroll and meet other obligations.
However he has said that the recent borrowing request is needed to meet obligations through the end of the year.
District One students began their first full week of school this week, and there were a lot more of them than last year.
School Superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler reports a current record enrollment of 8,295 students in District One schools an increase of almost 200 students from this time last year and over 50 students more than projected by the district.
The largest increase in enrollment was in the K5 program, Fowler said.
According to Fowler, fifteen additional teachers have been employed for the school year to cover the increase in enrollment district-wide.
The addition to Cedar Grove Elementary opened as scheduled for the new school year, and the school reports an enrollment of 523 students.
Overall, the opening of school has gone smoothly due to the extensive preparation and orientations provided by our principals and teachers, Fowler said.
As usual, traffic moves slowly on the first few days of the school year. Traffic flow should improve after everyone establishes a routine, Fowler added.
One week before the start of classes, school officials announced construction at Cedar Grove was almost complete.
During the final week, workers completed painting, tile installed and waxed, rock and copings added to the roof, furniture moved in, casework installed and a new front canopy installed.
Palmetto High School also saw improvements being made before the start of school.
The interior of the main building was painted and tile installed in the hallways.
A new bell system, fire alarms, and phone system have been upgraded to match the new freshman academy.
Science labs are in the process of being upgraded to current safety standards and will be complete by mid-August.
Work on the new freshman academy at Palmetto High is also well underway.
As of July 27, the rough grading at the site was complete, along with foundations, more than a third of the floor slabs completed, site utilities and storm drainage and curb and gutters poured.
Improvements at Wren have brought a new look to the football stadium.
Improvements include new locker rooms and press box, relocation of concession stands, refurbished restrooms, and a major exterior upgrade.
New bleachers for the stadium have increased the capacity to approximately 6000 fans. New fencing has been installed and lighting under the new bleachers was recently installed.
Pelzer voters chose Sandra Ragsdale in a special election this week to fill an open seat on the town council according to unofficial election results released late Tuesday.
Less than 30 per cent of the towns 57 registered voters cast ballots at the Pelzer Community Building to fill the vacated seat. Unofficial results show Ragsdale received nine of the 17 votes cast in the election, Sammie Barnett received six votes, and John Ramsey received two votes.
The votes cast were all write-in votes since no candidate decided to officially run by the filing deadline established for the election. The ballots contained only one line for each voter to write in the candidate of their choice.
The council seat was left open when Council member Terry Mitchell, a Methodist minister, was transferred to a church outside of Pelzer at the beginning of the summer.
Election results will be certified and finalized according to standard procedure by the county Voter Registration office later this week. The official winner of the election will hold the seat through 2005.
Wren High School students are being offered a yearly athletic pass for $50. The pass will admit the holder to any regular season home athletic event at Wren High School.
The ticket is good for varsity and junior varsity football, basketball, volleyball, wrestling, soccer, softball and baseball events.
Tickets for the events individually would amount to more than $200. The year pass can be purchased during lunch periods from either Coach Lynn Hicks or Coach Mike Moss.
New bleachers at Wren High School football stadium have increased the seating capacity to 6000.
The new bleachers have been installed on the old visitors side and will be the new home side for Hurricane fans.
The old home side concrete bleachers will be the location for the visiting team.
Because of the change, reserved season ticket holders will have a revamped ticket distribution process.
Previous reserved ticket holders and any person interested in purchasing a reserved seat ticket will need to come to the high school and choose their seat location.
Seating is now assigned by row and seat number.
Tickets may be purchased at the August 13 jamboree at the stadium or at the main office at Wren High School.
Tickets will be sold on a first come, first served basis and the cost for reserved seat ticket booklet of six home games is $35.
General admission tickets will also be available for six home games for $25, saving of $5.
For more information contact Coach Lynn Hicks or Mike Moss at 850-5903.
The Field Day and Farm Expo held last weekend in Pelzer provided visitors with an eye-opening look at agriculture in the Upstate.
Sponsored by the Clemson Extension Service, the event was designed to encourage niche farming on small farms and to address the increase in the ethnic market in the local area.
An estimated 1,500 visitors had an opportunity to experience farm life first-hand at the 130-acre Circle M Ranch on Woodville Road. As a means of supporting the event, the owners of the ranch essentially donated the use of the facility to support local farmers as well as organizations designed to promote farming.
A host of food vendors offered visitors a taste of area farm products including barbecued goat meat and goat cheese. Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer handed out samples of Grade A raw milk, and Wayne Atkinson from Powdersville supplied visitors with homemade ice cream.
Heirloom farm products including black tomatoes and traditionally-bred chickens were also available.
A grist mill demonstration provided visitors with a look at corn and wheat from kernel to finished meal and flour.
Easter egg chickens dispensing a rainbow of colored eggs green, light blue, turquoise and chocolate were also on hand at the agricultural event.
Unusual farm animals drew a great deal of attention from visitors at the expo. Deb Potter of Merciful Hearts Farm in Pelzer displayed Angora rabbits from which she handspun fiber directly from the animal.
Llamas and alpacas valued at over $20,000 each based on the quality of fiber they produce added special interest. Many visitors were fascinated to hear the llamas humming to each other their unique way of communicating.
Livestock guardian dogs instinctively bred to bond and protect animals or children were a big hit with the hundreds of children who attended the event.
Equine events including barrel racing, pole bending, and goat tying on Friday and a horse show on Saturday attracted many visitors as well. According to organizers, this is the first year that a horse show has been included in the event.
Jerry Munns of Big Sky Farms in Honea Path and a goat producer coordinated the expo which began six years ago as a way to educate people about the different aspects of raising goats. The event has grown each year and attracts a larger group of vendors and visitors every year, Munns said.