(4905) Week of Dec. 7, 2005
Williamston Christmas parades Saturday
Piedmont and Williamston will host their Christmas parades this Saturday. Scheduled for different times, many of the participants can be seen in both parades.
The annual Piedmont Christmas Parade, presented by the Bonnes Amies Club of Piedmont, will have the theme Christmas Treasures and will honor area veterans on Saturday, at 11 a.m..
The parade is devoted to the honor of the living treasures we have in our veterans, organizers said.
All veterans who attend will be highlighted with an honored position in the parade, followed by a luncheon at the First Baptist Church Social Hall.
Anyone who would like to see a veteran honored should invite them to participate. Veterans should plan to meet at 10 a.m. in the parking lot of SunTrust Bank in Piedmont. The vehicles transporting veterans during the parade will be parked in the adjacent grocery store parking lot.
The Bonnes Amies Club urges all churches, businesses, bands, beauty queens, and organizations to participate.
Wrap up in your holiday sweaters and come out and enjoy the Piedmont Christmas Parade. Be sure to bring your American Flags to wave at the veterans to show them your support of their service to our town and country, Organizer Betty White said. For additional information call White at 845-5543.
Winter Fest will be held in downtown Piedmont on December 10, following the Christmas Parade. Holiday related activities will be held from 11a.m. till 4 p.m. in the Piedmont Community Building.
Included will be photos with Santa from 2 to 4 p.m. and holiday music provided by the Wren Elementary chorus and Sue Cleveland Elementary chorus. The Woodmont High School Dance team will also perform.
Crafters from across the upstate will offer items such as handmade jewelry, baked goodies, personalized poetry, hand painted wood crafts, paintings, crocheted items, and much more. Winter Fest is sponsored by Pride In Piedmont.
The Williamston Christmas Parade is scheduled for 3 p.m. December 10. The theme will be Keep Christ in Christmas. Organizer Walter Smith said there is no fee to enter the parade. Just bring plenty of candy, Smith said.
The parade route will begin at the traffic light at Hamilton St. and end at the traffic light at Academy St. in front of Calvary Baptist Church.
Registration forms for the Williamston Christmas Parade are available at the Williamston Municipal Center.
Interested participants can call Town Hall at 847-7473 and give a name and type of entry for judging. Deadline for entries to be judged will be Thursday, Dec. 8.
On the day of the parade, parade entrants can pick up numbers at Fort Hill Gas Co. on Hamilton St. starting at 1 p.m. and ending at 2:50 p.m. Those who do not want their entries judged can register the day of the parade at Fort Hill.
Judges will be located in front of the Municipal Center. Entries to be judged should show their numbers there, organizers said.
Line-up for the parade will include double lines formed on Hamilton St. For dance groups, performances should be no longer than three minutes. All horses will stay in the rear. Rules and other information will be given when registering at the Municipal Center. All entrants should continue the entire parade.
Trophies will be presented at the Municipal Center immediately following the parade.
Rain date for the parade will be December 17.
For more information call Smith at 847-7929 or Bennie Hyder at (864) 847-7473.
Citing a failure to honor a request to meet with Williamston officials about ongoing concerns with the towns finances, Auditor Larry Finney has resigned as the towns auditor.
Mayor Phillip Clardy and councilmembers were each notified by letter that the towns auditing firm, Greene, Finney and Horton, L.L.P., were resigning as the towns external auditors as of December 1.
In the letter Finney stated, I have tried to reach you several times over the past several months. I have left messages in our voice mail at the town and stopped by the Town Hall twice to see if you were in, but you were apparently not available to meet.
In the letter Finney stated a need for the mayor and council to meet to discuss the poor condition of the Towns finances.
I have attempted to strongly encourage you several times to call that meeting, but to no avail, the letter states.
The letter states that the firm has issued opinions for the last two years that state doubts about the towns abilities to continue as a going concern. The letter states that suggestions and recommendations to improve the towns financial condition have also been made.
Our desire has not been to simply provide audit services to the Town, but to help the town improve, not only its financial condition, but also the efficiency and effectiveness with which it operates and provides service to its citizens, Finney stated in the letter. Unfortunately, it appears to me our efforts and endeavors to help the town have fallen on deaf ears.
The auditing firm has performed the towns annual audit since 2001, when they were brought in by newly elected Mayor Clardy to perform the required audit.
At that time, the firm pointed out numerous procedural problems that existed under the former mayor.
Management letters submitted along with the 2004 audit which were made available to town officials in July of this year, showed numerous concerns. (See related articles in this issue).
The audit firm recommended the town cut expenses and increase property taxes.
Clardy said the accountants recommendations have not fallen on deaf ears.
Clardy said steps and measures that have been taken are in the right direction in addressing some of the problems pointed out in the last audit, some of which he completely disagrees with.
What should be and can be changed will be, he said.
Clardy agreed that on a long term basis, there are going to have to be cuts or additional revenues for the town to continue.
He said he does not want to increase property taxes or rates, which he said have both been held back under his watch.
He said the town will continue to look for cuts in the budget and other options for revenues.
One service being looked at is the recycling program. Clardy said the town could cut curbside recycling and provide a manned recycling site which he estimated will save $40,000 to $50,000.
Another option is establishing a household solid waste fee. Most municipalities charge an extra fee to help pay for trash pickup and removal services, he said. There is no collection fee for household garbage. We will have to look at that.
Though Clardy said he thinks the town is moving in the right direction, the monthly figures for November show the town is $253,125.21 over budget.
The Mayor will present the 2006 budget in a meeting planned for Dec. 12 at 6 p.m.
During their regular monthly meeting Monday, Council approved second reading on a GO Bond refund/extension of the $350,000 BAN note, but only after a lengthy discussion between two council members and the mayor about the interest rate on the loan.
At the start of the discussion, Clardy said there needed to be clarification on the issue being voted on. He said the BAN refund ordinance will extend the $350,000 bond note for a term of one year.
He said there is no additional loan amount, stating that Council was not voting for $565,000, which is the limit set by the original borrowing ordinance, but were voting to extend the $350,000 bond note for one year.
Clardy said the town intends to make monthly payments on the loan in anticipation of paying it off when 21 acres of property on Cherokee Road are sold.
Responding to a question by Councilman Cecil Cothran about the payments, treasurer Michelle Starnes said the town intends to make interest payments until the end of the year.
Councilmembers Greg Cole and Cothran both pressed the mayor about the interest rate to be paid on the extended BAN note.
When the issue was raised, neither Mayor Clardy, Treasurer Michelle Starnes nor the Town Attorney could state the present rate or the previous rate on the BAN loan with Regions Bank.
When Cothran asked for additional details on the interest rate, neither Mayor Clardy or Starnes could say for sure what the interest rate on the new BAN or the original BAN was, but Clardy said he thought it was six or seven percent.
When Cothran said he would like to know the interest rate before approving the loan extension ordinance, Clardy responded, We can stay here all night if we need to.
Councilman Cole also said he would like to know the interest rate before approving the ordinance and asked if it could be voted on at the next meeting, which is December 12.
Clardy responded, The rate is the best rate that we can get, again reiterating that he thought it was between six and seven percent.
We can stipulate that it is based on the same interest rate, and if it changes, bring it back before council, Clardy said.
After some discussion about tabling the motion or bringing it back before council if there is an increase, Clardy questioned why the councilmen had the ordinance for two months and didnt bring questions to him before the meeting.
Councilman Otis Scott then said, It will have to be paid back regardless of the interest rate.
Attorney Richard Thompson, in an attempt to break the stalemate, offered history of the BAN note and urged the Council to approve it.
He said the town was running short of money last year and after some discussion, borrowed $350,000.
He said the money was used to pay insurance and other things that needed to be paid, which he said this year the town has not had that problem.
He said the town intended to pay back the BAN with the sale of property, but were not able to sell it dur to some problems accessing the condition of infrastructure on the property.
Thompson said the town had paid interest on the loan, but no principal during 2004.
The land has not sold and the loan is due now, he said. The bank expects it to be paid or renewed.
Thompson also said that it was reasonable to expect the rate may go up because the Federal board has increased the rate.
I cant tell you your rate, Thompson said, But if you default, the rate will be higher next time. Im really not sure what else you are going to do.
Thompson said the town has the option of paying back the loan or refinancing. He also said that the town has not had to borrow money and has not raised taxes this year. It still has to be paid back.
Again Cothran questioned the interest rate, to which the attorney said, You will get whatever.
The citizens need to know what they will pay, Cothran said.
If I knew that you wanted that information I would have had Brad Love here to explain, Clardy said referring to the bond attorney handling the loan.
When Cothran said it was bad business, Clardy responded that council are paid $600 a month or about $325 an hour because that is about all they are here. We are trying to end a 20 year cycle.
We are talking about the taxpayers money, Councilman Cothran responded.
Clardy then made a motion to accept the ordinance. It was seconded by Councilman Scott and unanimously approved by Council.
Clardy stated that if the interest rate was more than two percent above the present rate it will back before council.
You will find out the rate? Councilman Cothran asked. I will call first thing in the morning, Clardy responded.
Think you for your participation in our local government, Clardy said. We are in this thing together.
Tuesday Clardy told The Journal the interest rate on the 2004 BAN is 5.65 percent, resulting in approximately $19,775 in interest.
He also said that the bond attorney could not quote the rate on the BAN extension until Council approved 2nd reading allowing him to proceed with closing.
If the interest rate does increase to 7.65 percent, the issue will be brought before Council, Clardy said.
In a meeting with The Journal Tuesday, Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy addressed recommendations presented in the management letters of the 2004 audit, which he said the town has been working on.
The Town is only a few months away from preparing for the 2005 audit and according to Clardy, the Town has made significant strides in bringing finances into balance and working toward ending a cycle of borrowing.
With the announcement this week that the town auditor is resigning, Clardy said there are no bad feelings between him and the auditor, but that he felt it was not necessary to meet with him and council to discuss the audit.
Clardy said the town has addressed many of the concerns pointed out by the auditing firm of Greene, Finney and Horton, who has performed the towns annual audit since 2001. He also said he does not agree with many of the recommendations made by the auditors.
In the 2004 audit for the Town of Williamston, the auditing firm of Greene, Finney & Horton, LLP. Certified Public Accountants, suggested 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 aid 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 banks 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.
Addressing each of the recommendations from the 2004 audit: Clardy said the recommendation to make night deposits does not allow for receipts and that deposits are made daily in the mornings.
Time cards are being approved by department heads.
Health insurance is administered equally and he said he thought the recommendation may have been related to an employee who is no longer with the town.
Recording cash accounts referred to accounts such as the museum account which had little activity and were not being reconciled regularly.
Purchase orders have to be approved by a supervisor and are applied directly to the budget, Clardy said. We make department heads responsible for the budget.
Providing a list of capital assets is a GATSB34 requirement and is a list of property and buildings valued over $10,000 which he said are now on computer.
In the 2004 audit for the Town of Williamston, the auditing firm of Greene, Finney & Horton, LLP. Certified Public Accountants, suggested ways the town could improve internal controls resulting in better operation of the town.
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 Treasurers office in a timely manner and no reconciliation of traffic ticket numbers and tickets issued.
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 Treasurers office in a timely manner and to reconcile traffic ticket numbers to the tickets that have been issued on a timely basis.
Addressing recommendations for the police department, Police Chief David Baker, who took over after Martin was fired mid year, said that problems pointed out in the department were under the former chief and he feels most of them have been addressed with the hiring of officers and lower turnover.
Baker said that some of the auditing process was done at the first of the year and problems were basically the result of a situational error. We were extremely short, he said.
Baker said the person responsible for police fines and tickets, Captain Steve Clardy, was also being used as a dispatcher at the time. Another dispatcher has been hired allowing Clardy time to work on the fine money.
According to Baker, police fines not being deposited was an old practice which evolved to a new practice of deposits once a month, which he and the mayor said are timely in their opinion. The deposits are made after being signed off by the town judge, a part time position.
Baker said the judge signs off on fine money weekly now resulting in a more timely deposit.
We feel like we are complying on a timely basis, Clardy said.
Delayed payments to the S. C. Treasurers office was also associated with the part-time judge and the process allows for greater accountability for traffic ticket and reconciliation, Baker said.
Ticket books are signed out and all tickets, voided or written, must be accounted for, he said.
He also said a yearly audit is done by the state in which items are randomly checked. He said we have never had a problem.
A new computer system, Lawtracks, is being used by the department which is better and more flexible for deports and records, according to Chief Baker. It is a really good program.
Baker said the department is only one or two officers down from 2002 and he hopes to eventually dedicate one of the two slots for an officer just for warrants.
Baker said the town has a number of old and outstanding warrants and uncollected fine money that needs to be addressed, and having an officer dedicated to warrants will help.
Responding to the 2004 audit recommendations, Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy justified his staff and the services being offered by the town, but did say he may look to cut expenses by cutting out curbside recycling program and adding a household garbage fee.
In the 2004 audit for the Town of Williamston, the auditing firm of Greene, Finney & Horton, LLP. Certified Public Accountants, suggested ways the town could improve internal controls resulting in better operation of the town.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.
Responding to the audit recommendations, Clardy said his office staff includes two persons dedicated to the water department, the interim clerk/treasurer, which has been combined into one position, and two support staff members.
Clardy said he disagrees with Finneys audit comparison of staff with other municipalities.
Clardy agreed that the town has more people working than others, but he adds, the town is providing more services and events. It is not a fair comparison, he said. It is not apples to apples.
He said not all towns have the events Williamston has, most of which were once organized by citizens committees but are now organized by a town employee.
Clardy said the events coordinator, Bennie Hyder also assists him.
The mayors administrative assistant Josh Barnes is also the towns code enforcement officer and works through the mayors office, which Clardy said is where many of the complaints come directly to.
Clardy said the town has tried as a whole to work on overtime.
On policy and procedures, he said he is working with Councilman Cecil Cothran on the towns policies and procedures and ordinances.
Clardy said the town is steadily working on document retention and organization.
The is also some disagreement on the 1099 or W2 forms being provided to firemen. Clardy said the town is trying to get a clarification from the IRS on the payments made to firemen for their calls.
The interest rate on the 2005 bond anticipation note (BAN) extension will not be set until the bond attorney firm, Haynes, Sinkler, and Boyd, present the bond for closing with the lending institution, Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said Tuesday.
Clardy said that the original BAN note of $350,000, which was negotiated last December (2004), had a 5.65% interest rate and was issued through Regions Bank of Anderson.
He said bond attorney Brad Love told him the rate on the new bond note cannot be secured until it is presented to the bank and it cannot be presented to the bank until the bond ordinance is approved by Council.
Council unanimously approved the ordinance allowing the extension during their regular meeting Monday.
Clardy also said the town plans to make monthly principal and interest payments of $8,500 on the BAN note during 2005, with a balloon payment due at the end of the year or when the note is paid off.
This is by our choice, Clardy said. to start making payments.
The town is in the process of appraising a 21 acre tract of land on Cherokee Road, anticipating selling the property to pay off the BAN loan.
The BAN note is a one year loan that can be extended or be paid with collateral with the promise of a bond issue if the balance is not paid at the end of the term.
Williamston Councilmembers Greg Cole and Cecil Cothran both questioned the interest rate of the BAN refund ordinance during the meeting.
Both councilmembers initially wanted to put off approval of the ordinance until next week, citing a lack of information, however after some discussion, approved the ordinance with a unanimous vote and a promise that if the rate is more than 2 percent above the present rate, it will be brought back before Council.
The 2004 BAN note was used to pay health insurance, workers compensation and other bills the town owed.
Clardy said the town has not had to borrow money this year and the BAN reissue will help the town break a cycle of borrowing the town has had for a number of years.
Clardy said his point during the meeting Tuesday in which Councilman Cecil Cothran raised the question of the interest rate, was not the rate itself, but that if it was that pertinent to his (Cothrans) support of the ordinance, Clardy said it should have been brought up prior to the Council meeting.
At the meeting, none of the towns officials could say for sure what the interest rate on either BAN note would be.
Clardy also said the issue of a letter of resignation from auditor Larry Finney was news to him and that he had not seen a copy at that time.
Clardy said the letter was sent to his personal post office box, arriving on Saturday, and that he had not checked the box over the weekend or on Monday.
I literally had not seen it, he said. He did have his mailed copy on Tuesday.
Clardy said there were no hard feelings between himself and Mr. Finney though there were differences of opinion.
He said he and treasurer Michelle Starnes had met with Finney on three separate occassions and though Finney had suggested a meeting with the mayor and council to discuss the audit in executive session, Clardy declined, stating he didnt want to violate the FOI by discussing the audit in executive session.
He also said he and Finney had conflicting schedules at the time. Clardy was in the process of making depositions in connection with lawsuits against the town and Finney was going to be out of town for several weeks.
Clardy said that concerning Council, There was no overwhelming desire to meet with me about the audit.
Clardy said he will meet with Finney and that there is not any bad blood between them.
He said there was some discussion with Finney about the cost of the audit, in which he said, Larry said maybe his firm is too big for our town, and that we could get it done a lot less expensively, Clardy said.
He said there has been some discussion with councilmembers within the last two months about the auditor.
Clardy said if there is a meeting with Finney, it will not be in executive session. It (the audit) is a public document and the public has the right to know, he said.
During their regular monthly meeting Monday, Williamston Town Council approved a GO Bond ordinance allowing the town to extend a loan for one additional year (see related story) and accepted a gift of eleven lots from a landowner.
At the beginning of the meeting, Council went into executive session to discuss a contractural matter, which Mayor Phillip Clardy said he expected to return to public session to vote on.
Upon returning to public session, Council unanimously approved an offer of a gift of 12 parcels of land to the town.
The gift includes eleven of the parcels, valued at $99,000, from Mary T. McPhail and one parcel valued at $2,500, from David Tucker.
The land owner wants to give a gift, Attorney Richard Thompson said.
Clardy announced he plans to present the 2006 budget for first reading on Dec. 12 and second reading on Dec. 20. Both meetings will be at 6 p.m.
Clardy also announced Christmas events including the Christmas Spectacular in which themed Christmas trees are in the hallways of the muicipal center. I encourage citizens to come see it Clardy also said the towns is still accepting donationf ro the Embrace a child program.
In the good of the order, there was discussion about a letter of resignation from auditor Larry Finney.
When Councilman Greg Cole asked about the letter, Clardy responded that he had not seen it and could not respond to it. I have not received a letter to that effect, Clardy said.
I have no problem meeting with our auditor, Clardy said.
He also said the auditor had told him that the auditor may be too expensive for the town.
I have not had one council member discuss with me publicly or privately any specifics of the audits, Clardy said. I would have been glad to have Finney come, Clardy said. If they (the council) have concerns I will be glad to address them.
By Stan Welch
The Town of Williamston appears to have recovered at least partly from serious financial difficulties which existed at this time last year.
Those difficulties included the imminent cancellation of the Towns insurance, which is provided by the South Carolina Local Government Assurance Group (SCLGAG). Last December, the Town was more than $87,000 in arrears on their premiums. The situation had become so grave that the SCLGAG had informed the Town in writing that all coverage would be cancelled if the account was not made current by December 31. In addition, no insurance claims made after November 30 would be honored until or unless the account was made current.
The Town was also put on notice that any payments not made by their past due date of the 20th of each month would result in cancellation of all coverage at the end of that month, no questions asked. At one point, a town employee had to be sent to Columbia to deliver a delinquent payment in order to avoid cancellation of the coverage.
This year, Harvey Matthias, Director of Risk Management for the South Carolina Municipal Association, says all is well. Everything is going fine. All the Towns invoices are being paid on time. Matthias said that the Association had worked with the Town, and together they have weathered the storm.
Some accounts are drafted by the Association, while other benefits provided by them are invoiced. Health insurance benefits, for example, are billed monthly, while workmans compensation is paid on a quarterly basis. Property liability is billed semi-annually.
Both the Association and the Town of Williamston worked very hard to reach a solution. Right now, things are running smoothly, said Matthias, in a recent telephone interview. No one had informed me otherwise.
Scott Willitt, of the Anderson Joint Regional Water system, also confirms that the Town of Williamston is in good standing as regards to their current account. In essence, theyre in good shape. I think they may be behind around $400 or so on the August/September billing, but thats pretty minor. There is no major delinquency.
Willitt, in fact, commended the Town on its recent decision to buy additional capacity as part of the systems planned expansion. They got their future needs covered at a rate thats the lowest in 30 or 40 years. Thats a very good deal and a smart investment.
The Palmetto High School Class Beauty Competition was held December 3.
Hayley Meade, Miss Palmetto 2005 was Mistress of Ceremonies and provided entertainment.
Contestants competed in casual wear and evening gown.
Freshmen winners were Miss Freshman Laura Milford; second runner up, Taylor Cabaniss; first runner up, Anna Bowen.
Sophomores winners were Miss Sophomore Kaisha Holloway, first runner up, Haley Tribble; second runner up, Brittany Bridges.
Juniors winners were Miss Junior Kadie Zahnd; first runner up Nikki Green; second runner up Brittany Vaughn
Seniors winners were Miss Senior Kristen Clark; first runner up Danielle Smith; second runner up Jacinta Vaughn.
Contestants competing for Miss Freshman were: Nicole Beck, Anna Bowen, Shellie Brooks, Brittany Brooks, Taylor Cabaness, Brittany Caldwell, Jillana Darby, Casey Davis, Ashlan Ferguson, Kiersten Huff, Sarah Johnson, Laura Milford, Kelsey Mulherin, Carson Porter, Stephanie Powell, Sydney Starnes, Keri Taylor.
Miss Sophomore: Melanie Bardin, Brittany Boggs, Brittany Burgess, Shannon Burgess, Amanda Callaham, Kelly Hampton, Quinn Hofmeister, Kaisha Holloway, Chelsea Jones, Melissa Mackey, Jeana Maher, Lindsey Owens, Carmen Scales, Holly Scroggs, Amber Singleton, Haley Tribble.
Miss Junior: Turner Alexander, Sarah Bruton, Nikki Green, Brittany Hooker, Hannah Johnson, Natasha Oyler, Dana Stanton, Brittany Vaughn, Brooke Webb, Jena Whitten, Brooklyn Williams, Tori Wood, Kadie Zahnd.
Miss Senior: Holly Beddingfield, DeAnna Blackwell, Brittany Bowman, Nicole Bush, Serah Cartee, Kristen Clark, Brittany Chappelear, LaQuita Cleveland, Becky Ingram, Rachel Irwin, Stephanie King, Lisa Mosteller, Megan Roberts, Danielle Smith, Lauren Taylor, Jacinta Vaughn, Jessica Vinson.
In the annual audit report to the Anderson School District One Board of Trustees last Tuesday, Auditor Larry Finney, of Greene, Finney and Horton, LLC, reported that the District continues to be in good financial shape.
Finney reported the district received an unqualified opinion, the best opinion you can receive in an audit.
According to the report, the District Fund balance increased and the District stayed within the $40,356,835 budget approved for the 2004-2005 school year.
Finney reported the District fund balance has increased $401,000, to $3.7 million. The General Fund reserved fund stands at $3.3 million, or 8.2 percent of operating expenditures.
According to Finney, the GFOA recommendation is 8 to 17 percent, which is about two months of operating expenses. For District One, 8.5 percent is about one month of operations, Finney said, which he said is reasonable.
Finney said that considering the vehicle property tax adjustment, the reserve fund figure is really quite good.
Finney pointed out that an adequate fund balance is important because it provides cash flow through the second half of the calendar year when property taxes are already collected. It covers significant emergencies and other unanticipated expenditures and can help cover significant nonrecurring planned expenditures.
It also helps with lower interest rates when issuing debt, according to Finney. It can save you money.
The general fund revenues for the District increased $848,000, or 2.3 percent, for a total of $37.1 million. State revenues increased $1.2 million.
According to Finney, General Fund expenditures increased $3.0 million and included instruction cost of $1.7 million, support services of $.7 million, and capital outlay of $.5 million.
The district shows actual expenditures at or slightly lower than revenues, within 7 percent of the original and revised budget, according to the report.
The actual results were very close to what was budgeted, Finney said, which can be attributed to good management and use of resources.
The food services program continued to be profitable for the fourth year in row, Finney said, with cash and investments of $1.1 million. The District recently has upgraded equipment in the program, which Finney said will help it be ready for the future.
Finney said GASB #34 implemented in 2003 has helped with financial analysis for the District, providing new government required financial statements and showing depreciation of capital assets. The primary purpose of GASB #34 is to show financial condition and results for the District, he said.
According to Finneys report, District One has assets of $68 million with $7.4 million in cash and investments, $56 million in net capital assets, and $4 million in receivables and other assets.
The district has liabililties of $36.5 million, with $32.3 million in long term liabilities and $4.2 million in current liabilities and deferred revenue which includes primarily payroll and accounts payable, accrued interest and deferred revenue.
The District has total net assets of $31.5 million with $24.8 million for capital assets net of related debt, $1.6 million in restrictions and $5.1 million unrestricted.
Total expenses amount to approximately $28.9 million, including depreciation of $1.34 million.
Of that, program revenue fees and grants (restricted) total $18.6 million, $12 million is from general and debt service taxes, unrestricted state and other revenues.
Finney commended District Financial Director Steve Uldrick and staff for having no reportable conditions, for increasing the fund balance and for having cash flow heading in the right direction.
He did caution that the fund balance is still low and that the district needs to establish written policy and procedures for handling money for each of the schools in the district. He also said there is a need for a policy dealing with invoices.
Responding to a question asked by board member Dale Martin, Finney said in testing done by his staff which included looking at 40 invoices, results showed 6 or 7 that needed additional information. According to Finney, usually 1 to 3 items are found where something may be of question.
We felt it was a good time to remind the district of policy and procedures. There were no concerns about any financial discrepancies, he said.
Following the report, Superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler commended Uldrick for his work with the District One finances..
Mr Uldrick and staff do an outstanding job day in and day out, he said.
Community leaders will be handing out free books to children under 6 years of age during the Williamston Christmas Parade on December 10. Citizens from local businesses, schools and churches will walk in the parade and distribute information on the Strong Communities initiative to keep kids safe.
The book give-away represents one example of celebrating our youngest residents and showing support for their families, said Doris Cole, Outreach Worker for Strong Communities in Pelzer, Williamston, and West Pelzer.
The parade book project is made possible by donations from Gray Mortuary and Palmetto Family Practice in support of the mission of Strong Communities. Each book will contain a brochure urging the entire community to watch out for and care about children and families.
The goal of the Strong Communities initiative is to increase the capacity of families to nurture their children, use the resources within the community, and join supportive networks of other families in the area.
Our towns should be safe places for families with young children, and that can happen if we follow the golden rule of looking out for one another, said West Pelzer mayor, Peggy Paxton.
Other projects under Strong Communities include the delivery of gift baskets to parents of new babies. This Family Watch outreach is being led by the Williamston and West Pelzer police force. Community volunteers have been trained as Family Friends and are available to new moms and dads for friendship and support.
Plans are being made to offer free events such as Parents Night Out, Play Groups, Stroller Stride, and more. For more information or to volunteer, contact Doris Cole at 847-9186.
By Stan Welch
While the proposed $.01 sales tax was the main issue at the December County Council meeting (see related story elsewhere in this issue) a few other items crossed the Councils desks.
Council gave second reading approval to an economic incentive package for S&T Enterprises, which owns the Hilton Gardens and Destination Pointe facility. The incentive offer of an infrastructure credit has been controversial, with some members saying that such incentive packages were designed to attract industrial businesses.
District 7 Councilwoman Cindy Wilson opposed the offer, saying that she had concerns about offering such advantages to a commercial business. Why does this company receive this when other commercial businesses do not? Where do we draw the line?
She also once again challenged county attorney Tom Martins role in the efforts to provide the incentives to S&T. Mr. Martin wrote this ordinance and his firm represents this company. He went behind closed doors with the Council chairperson and discussed this during the last meeting. It is a glaring conflict of interest.
Both Chairperson Gracie Floyd and Martin denied discussing any aspects of the actual transaction. Said Martin, I have repeatedly explained that I do not represent the County in economic development matters. Attorney Galloway, from a competing firm, does. When I spoke with Ms. Floyd, it was about parliamentary procedures and not this deal. Said Floyd, Mr. Martin, you can talk till youre blue in the face. Some people just wont believe anything but what they want to believe.
The ordinance received second reading approval by a 4-2-1 vote, with Wilson and Greer opposing, and McAbee recusing himself due to a business relationship between S&T and his company.
A related ordinance, to include the property in the multi county industrial park, which would allow the incentive package to be delivered, was also given second reading approval by an identical vote.
Another item that evoked some excitement was the normally routine approval of the list of funding requests presented by the ATAX Committee. Those funds come from accommodations taxes. Planning director Jeff Ricketson presented the list, explaining that 38 organizations had requested over $351,000; a problem since only $128,643 was available.
The fun began when Chairperson Floyd expressed her desire to fund Main Street Program Anderson with $2000. They bring money to the downtown. I want to give $1500 to the Holiday Walk, and $500 to the Walking Tour. Since the Arts Center got $30,000 like they do every year, lets take it from there.
Councilman Greer amended Floyds motion to include $2000 for the Belton Partnership for use in the Standpipe Festival. He also asked for $2000. His amendment was quickly amended in turn by Councilwoman Wilson to include $2000 for the Honea Path Merchants Association.
Floyd, sensing that the raid on the cookie jar was gaining momentum, challenged Wilsons amendment, saying that the requests she made were for an organization that received no funding, not ones that received some funding. Wilson responded that Greers request was for an increase in funding for something that had already received some money. Greer responded that he just wanted to beef his area up; Wilson retorted that she did too. Councilman McAbee attempted to bolster the funding for a Sons of Confederate Veterans reenactment, causing Floyd to state that they had already received $4000.
After further delay, during which Floyd tried to convince Wilson that her request should be withdrawn, Councilman Dees spoke, saying that both McAbee and Wilson deserved the same courtesy of a vote on their amendments that Floyd and Greer did. McAbee withdrew his amendment; Wilson did not. By the time everything was finished, Wilson had $1500, Floyd $2000, and Greer $2000, all at the expense of the Anderson Area Arts Center.
In one final vote, Floyds effort to return Joe Davenport to the ACOG Board was thwarted when her nomination died for lack of a second. McAbee objected to the process, saying that he felt it should be done by nomination of candidates and seconds; Wilson stated her opinion that the appointments were to be made in January.
Said Floyd, I think I can appoint him and do it whenever I want. But if you all want to wait until January, then thats what well do.
By Stan Welch
Potential fallout and political posturing related to a proposed $.01 sales tax were clearly on the minds of the Anderson County Council, as they voted to create the commission that will create a list of projects to be paid for by that tax.
The sales tax has been proposed to help finance infrastructure projects. Those projects would be determined and prioritized by a six member commission comprised of three members appointed by the County Council, while the City of Anderson will appoint one member from the City. That member will then appoint two other members from municipalities in the County, other than Anderson.
According to the process, the commission will meet, receive public input, and eventually formulate a question to be decided by a referendum at election time next November.
That question will define the road and bridge projects to be funded, the priority for the projects, and the length of the life of the sales tax, not to exceed seven years.
Several Council members, after hearing from a number of speakers both for and against the tax, stressed that the decision before them was simply whether or not to create the commission.
District 5 Councilman Michael Thompson said that he saw this tax as facing an uphill battle. Anderson County is traditionally a conservative County. I think selling a tax increase to people who are already unhappy about their taxes wont be easy. I am not voting to raise taxes, just to establish the commission.
Thompson then went on to give a pretty impressive sales pitch for the tax itself, saying that the County could possibly receive as much as a 287% return on the estimated $74 million that they would have to provide over the life of the tax. If you were an investor who could triple his investment in three years, who wouldnt jump on it? It seems like a pretty simple decision to me.
District 3 Councilman Larry Greer said, I dont believe I have the right to make this decision for the people I represent. I am not voting to raise taxes. I am voting to give the citizens the right to make their own decision in 2006. Greer then, at a signal from County Administrator Joey Preston, asked Preston to present a list of municipalities which have provided statements of support for the resolution which would create the commission.
District 4 Councilman McAbee expressed his concern that the Council had failed to turn a tax rollback to reduce taxes, and had imposed a two mill tax increase in the last two years. This tax will make Anderson County less competitive in trying to attract businesses. We need to be very careful about increasing the cost of doing business in this county.
Council Chair Gracie Floyd, presiding over her last Council meeting before the election of the new chair and vice chair in January, responded to Councilwoman Cindy Wilsons declaration of opposition by saying, A no vote means that that Council member has made the decision for their people. They have already decided for their district. This could also be a scare tactic, if youre hearing from your people that we wont vote for you next time. Well, if the work youve done for your people isnt good enough to get you reelected, maybe you shouldnt get reelected.
Among the public speakers was Anderson County Taxpayers Association president Dan Harvell, who said that his organization was categorically opposed to the commission. The state legislature is working very hard to provide us with a means to get rid of the property tax. We know that something is coming from them in 2006. To add this sales tax will hinder passage of whatever they try to pass.
Charles Crowe also spoke, saying that if council had established priorities for roads, the problem wouldnt exist. The two mils tax increase the council approved this year is nothing compared to the impact this will have. The newspaper runs page after page of people who cant pay their taxes, and here we are getting ready to increase the burden on the elderly and the poor.
Jim Broyles, representing the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of the resolution. Broyles is also a principal in the Design South Company, which frequently oversees construction projects for the County, including road and sewer projects.
After considerable discussion, Council voted 5-2 to approve the resolution. Wilson and McAbee opposed.
By Stan Welch
The vote to name a recently announced park after local dignitary and former state Representative Dolly Cooper continues to raise questions about whether the vote was conducted properly, or even if it was conducted at all.
The property, whose actual purchase has also stirred some controversy, is slated for a recreational facility, according to public announcements made by the County. It was at the press conference to announce the lands purchase that the decision to name the park after Cooper was first revealed. Coopers son, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dan Cooper was on hand to announce the awarding of a $250,000 PRT grant to assist in developing the property.
Several council members contacted at the time did not recall casting any vote, either to purchase the 48 acre tract, nor to name it for Mr. Cooper. County Administrator Joey Preston has since stated that the propertys purchase was approved as part of a 2004 general obligations bond issue. While that GOB did in fact speak about a recycling center and a new library for the Powdersville area, the park was not mentioned specifically. The recycling center was originally slated for construction at the library site, and not at the Saluda River site purchased later.
During an appearance on the Rick Driver Show on local radio this week, Councilman Larry Greer was asked by a caller if he remembered casting a vote to name the park. He stated and later confirmed that he had been polled as to his opinion on naming the park after Cooper. Councilman Bill Dees also confirmed that he was contacted by Preston, and later contacted Greer for his response.
Dees expressed surprise that such a method of reaching a consensus could be a violation of the SC Freedom of Information Act. You mean to say that I cant contact another council member and ask for their opinion on something, or their support for an issue? That naming that park after such a fine gentleman is a violation of the FOIA?
The Freedom of Information Handbook for County Government, published and distributed by the South Carolina Association of Counties states that Practice of using telephone polls to handle matters over which the public body has authority would most probably not comply with the (Freedom of Information) Act. The handbook goes on to refer to conference calls as a preferable way to handle emergency situation so body may act collectively rather than its members acting individually and independently. That section cites an opinion published by the SC Attorney General in 1992.
In addition, the text of the SCFOIA itself prohibits the use of polling of members in executive session to commit the public body to a course of action. The law goes on to state that No chance meeting, social meeting, or electronic communication may be used in circumvention of the spirit of the requirements of this chapter to act upon a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.
Councilwoman Cindy Wilson and Councilman Bill McAbee both stressed that they would fully support the naming of the park after Mr. Cooper. Both claim long-standing relationships with him, and say that he would be a fine choice. Neither was asked however.
Wilson says she was never contacted about the decision, and went on to say, I would have been honored to cast my vote in favor of that. But I wasnt asked. Polling is a very questionable activity, especially when only certain members of the body are contacted.
McAbee said that he fully supports the decision. Mr. Dolly Cooper is a great man, and has long been a friend of my family. I would have voted for it without a doubt. But I did not cast a vote. As I recall it, I was pretty much told by Mr. Preston that the park would be named after Mr. Dolly. Again, I have no problem with the decision itself, but I was never contacted about it before hand.