West Pelzer budget may see changes after hearing, approval

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By Stan Welch – In a somewhat convoluted process, the Town of West Pelzer will hold a public hearing on its 2012-2013 budget two weeks after the budget received second reading approval. The public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 30.

The Town simply forgot to hold the public hearing, which is required by law, between the first and second readings. The budget, as approved, includes a three per cent raise for all full time employees. That increase will total $7304, if it stands.

But an amendment may be offered following the official approval after the public hearing.

Councilman Blake Sanders is leaning towards a four percent increase for the Town’s employees and a two per cent raise for the police department.

That approach, if approved, would save some money over the proposed increase of $7304 that the across the board increase would cost.

Sanders has questioned the recent effects of a full time police department on the Town’s fund balance, or cash reserves. Mayor Peggy Paxton conceded that the costs of a “full blown” department had made some inroads into the fund balance but that it had leveled off. She conceded that the costs of the department had strapped the Town’s finances.

“We used to have one or two officers and they came and went every few months. Now we have what I think is the best department in the state, but there’s no denying that the costs are felt.”

The budget as conditionally approved also does not include proposed increases in several fees which the town currently charges, such as late fees for payment of utility bills and reconnect fees for accounts that are delinquent.

Town Clerk Paula Payton, who presented the proposal for the increased fees, explained that when the town connects its sewer lines to ReWa that regional utility will begin taking half of all such fees collected by the Town. “So we really need these increases just to hold our ground once that starts,” said Payton.

In order to meet increasingly tighter state and federal standards for wastewater discharges into the Saluda River, the Town has had to abandon its own antiquated system and upgrade its lines and treatment facilities. The Town will send its wastewater to a new ReWa treatment facility near Piedmont.

The Rural Development Authority, RDA, which made the federal loans to the town to upgrade and expand their sewer system, sets the rates at a level adequate to insure enough revenue to repay the loans. The rates are essentially set by federal regulations and are not under the control of the Town Council.