By Stan Welch
West Pelzer Town Council gave first reading approval to an ordinance that would authorize the borrowing of up to $200,000 to complete construction of the proposed Chapman Park. Future revenues from the town’s hospitality tax would be pledged to repay the loan over a seven year period.
Mayor Peggy Paxton introduced the ordinance, arguing in favor if it. “We are seeking funds to get the park built right now. We would make one payment a year, of thirty thousand dollars, using our hospitality taxes to raise the money.”
She said that the town receives about $30,000 a year in tax revenues on the sales of prepared food in the restaurants and convenience stores in the town limits. “We would keep the thirty thousand we have in the bank on hand as a reserve, so we always have a year’s payment on hand, if something were to happen,” said Paxton.
Newly installed Council member Blake Sanders raised concerns that the loan would commit all the town’s hospitality tax revenues to one project. “For the next seven years, we have only one vision for the town. This park will use all our revenues just to repay this loan. Is that correct?”
Paxton conceded the point but added that the possibility of increased food sales or additional restaurants opening could change that. When asked what would happen if sales went down, lowering revenues, Paxton said “We stay optimistic. We don’t like to look at the negative side.”
Councilman Randall Ledford complained that the change in funding the park would result in public bathrooms not being completed until the loan is paid off.
Paxton said that every month for the last two years, while the project has been essentially stagnant, citizens always ask what the progress is. “This is a big move, I know. But it is the only thing that will get us where we want to go. We need to get this park built now, or we will lose the property.”
The Council, with member Ann Odom absent, voted 3-0 with one abstention (Sanders) to give first reading approval. A meeting for second reading is scheduled for next Tuesday.
In other business, Ledford raised the issue of employee raises for the remainder of the fiscal year. “The Town’s employees haven’t had a raise in two years. To give them a three per cent raise for the next six months will cost us $3650.82. I’d like to know the Council’s thoughts,” said Ledford.
Mayor Paxton said she would like to give the raises but added, “I’m a little worried about that. Things are really tight in the budget and we still have half a year to go.”
New Councilman Robert Alexander said he felt the employees would rather stay at their current level and be sure of the job being there than trying to go up and not being able to keep everyone. He added that the police department doesn’t even have matching winter jackets to wear. “They all wear whatever they have. They need to have a decent coat in the winter months.”
Chief Mike Clardy said that while his officers would welcome a raise, they have not asked for one. “We do have some real concerns over equipment and fuel costs going up.” No action was taken on the matter of raises.
Council also discussed the problems caused by outdoor burning and possible solutions to the problem. Mayor Paxton agreed to explore some possibilities and report back to Council.