Department budgets, dilapidated buildings topic for county budget work session

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By Stan Welch – The heads of various county departments appeared before the County Council to present and defend their budget requests during a workshop Tuesday night. Deputy administrator Holt Hopkins, who also heads the transportation department, explained that while some consolidation of departments in the area of planning and community development had been accomplished, further consolidation seemed unwise.

Hopkins explained that the planning department is tasked with looking forward and anticipating where the county’s greatest growth will take place, and preparing for it. “I have tasked that department with looking into the future, looking into the Anderson County crystal ball to see where we will be in twenty years,” said Hopkins.

“On the other hand, departments like Building and Codes are enforcement agencies, with a completely different mission. Those different missions make it difficult, if not impossible, to merge them.”

Councilwoman Cindy Wilson and Councilman Francis Crowder both expressed frustration and displeasure at the disorganized presentation. There were multiple versions of the budget before the members, and the first ten minutes were literally spent on getting everyone on the same page.

Increases in personnel costs came up, as departments which had been cut in terms of employees in recent years sought to replace some of them, at least on a part time basis. The building and codes department head sought such relief, and explained to Councilwoman Wilson that the level of activity in the department, in terms of inspections and plan reviews was higher so far this year than in the last two years combined.

He also explained the department has been working daily with the First Quality engineers and contractors, reviewing plans and providing other services. “We have probably waived $400,000 in fees for that company, and the same situation will exist with the coming Michelin expansion.”

The waiving of such fees is a staple of the economic development incentive packages commonly offered to entice industry to an area.

Another matter that came up was the need to condemn and demolish as many as 138 homes across the county; dilapidated and abandoned homes. While Councilwoman Gracie Floyd admitted that she had hogged the annual $15,000 allotted for such action during the first two years it was available, she spoke Tuesday in favor of expanding the program and its funding so other districts can benefit as well.

“I was a pig the first two years,” said Floyd, “but my district needed some attention. But there are other areas as well. I understand the Pelzer area has a number of homes that would qualify for demolition. “

Councilman Tommy Dunn agreed with Floyd, adding that the Council should have the county attorney investigate other possible legal tools for locating the owners of the properties and requiring them to pay the costs of demolition.

“These folks that just abandon these places, or leave them half standing after fires and such should be made to do this instead of the taxpayer. But I agree, it is not only a blight in the community but a safety matter as well.”

Additional budget workshops are planned in coming weeks. The budget has received first reading. Two more are needed for approval; the deadline is June 30.