Three candidates running for Williamston mayor

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When Williamston voters go to the polls next week, they will have a choice of three candidates running for the office of mayor. Recent headlines and discussions have centered on incumbent mayor Carthel Crout and challenger Mack Durham questioning each others handling of finances. Surgery sidelined the third candidate, Phillip Clardy, from the discussions. Clardy has recouperated enough from surgery on Oct. 5 to continue his campaign and said that he is still in the mayor’s race and is as committed as ever.  Here is some background on the race and what the candidates are saying . . .

CLARDY

Phillip E. Clardy served two terms as Williamston’s mayor (2000-2008), after defeating longtime mayor Marion Middleton.

During his time as mayor, the town went through some tough times politically and financially, which eventually led to major cutbacks in services and an auction of surplus property, including the old town hall.

But cutbacks, new fees, the hospitality tax and other measures enacted during his second term in office resulted in the town’s finances getting back on track midway through his second term.

The current administrator, Phyllis Lollis, was hired during Clardy’s last year in office.

Clardy said that when he left office in 2008, the town had a healthy cash fund, only regularly scheduled debt, and a fund balance of $1.8 million dollars. “If elected again, I will build upon the same hard work and efforts that brought about this success,” he said.

Clardy said he will reduce the “water bill” by reclassifying the Sanitation fee portion as a tax-based expense and removing the fee from the “bill.” He also said there are several areas where operating expenses can be cut and the savings returned back to the customers by a rate reduction.

He said he will drastically change and improve the police department to improve the image and focus on a growing drug problem.

He said he will appoint a qualified Town Administrator or eliminate the position.

He also said he will “null and void” any and all contract(s)/agreement(s) not authorized by town council and will address the needs of the elderly and young people.

Clardy also said he will keep citizens aware of the issues important to them and their tax dollars stating, “Far too many times in the last four years, our residents have learned of major and costly decisions made by this administration -after the fact!”

CROUT

Incumbent mayor A. Carthel Crout served on town council during Phillip Clardy’s last two years in office and narrowly defeated him in the 2008 election.

During Crout’s tenure as mayor, the town has been been able to pay off several long standing loans, make several large cash purchases and accumulate a healthy $1.46 million fund balance, all without borrowing any money.

Crout said that getting the town on sound financial footing was his first order of business when he was elected and that with careful management of resources, using recommended accounting practices and generally being good stewards, his administration has restored confidence in the town’s financial stability and reputation.

“We haven’t had to borrow any money and we have paid off the bills from the previous administration,” he said.

According to a recent audit report, the Town of Williamston has run a budget deficit for the last three years, but still has a healthy general fund balance.

The report confirmed statements by Crout that the town is in sound financial shape despite budget overages which have been pointed out by Durham.

Crout defends the town’s financial status, stating that he is following purchasing policies and that even though the town’s fund balance is being used to cover the spending, the fund balance remains in good shape.

The town recently paid off a loan for the old water treatment plant and a sewer outfall line dating back to the 1980s, and has almost completed a major $10 million upgrade at the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP)

Half of the upgrade cost is covered by a federal grant while the balance is a $5 million loan with RUS.

Crout said that the town’s sewer bill reflects rates required by RUS to run the sewer department and make the $19,000 loan payment each month.

Crout said that since he has served as mayor, the town has not had to borrow money to balance the budget and that all audits have obtained the highest rating possible.

The mayor said that the town has been able to secure grants amounting to $6 million, which combined with town monies, have allowed upgrades to the waste water treatment plant (WWTP), a sewer trunk line on Academy, paving of West Main St. and sidewalk upgrades throughout the town.

Approximately half of the $25,000 monthly payment that was going toward the old water treatment plant and outfall line loan is now being applied to the new RUS payment.

Responding to recent comments by his challenger, Crout said, “On my watch the town has never missed a payroll or bounced a check. I ran athletic programs for 25 years and I had to balance those budgets.”

He also said, “We paid all bills including debt that occurred under the last administration.”

Crout challenged statements that he has increased fees, taxes and/or water bills during his tenure.

He said the town has a $1.2 million fund balance without raising any taxes and that since he has been in office the town has reduced fees twice.

The garbage fee was reduced by $2 in 2009 and another $1 in 2010. According to Crout, each dollar in reduction amounts to $26,000 less in revenue for the town. “It is cheaper than most anywhere,” he said.

He also said that RUS told the town what sewer rate they would charge to meet the loan/grant repayment guidelines for the WWTP upgrade. “We have no control over that.”

Crout also takes issue with what his challenger has said is a $700,000 deficit for the town, which Crout said cannot be substantiated.

According to Crout the town has used reserve funds to pay for projects including park sidewalk improvements, a new restroom at Brookdale Park and parking lot improvements currently underway behind town hall.

“Council has approved all of those projects,”Crout said. “They were voted on by council and approved by unanimous vote.”

“We have been good stewards and have paid off loans, bonds and other things all without raising taxes. That is what the capital improvement fund is for.”

DURHAM

Dr. R. Mack Durham has served one term on council.

According to Durham, his platform includes honest representation of the consensus of the community, increased responsible stewardship of revenues and efficiency of duties by the local government and development of local jobs and improvement of community enrichment and quality of life programs.

He said his plan provides actions to implement the town’s stagnant comprehensive and strategic planning.

Improvement of Main Street façade and streetscape, increased availability of local activities and events, and economic development, all with a focus on sustainability, top his list of priorities.

Durham said he has a vision and a plan to realize the greater potential of the Williamston area.

Durham said during his term as Councilman he gained valuable experience, completed training in both local government and economic development, and has seen the potential strengths and weaknesses of the current Administration and Council.

Recently, a history of liens and financial judgments involving Durham’s Palmetto Family Medical Group have become an election issue, with Crout pointing to them as evidence that Durham would not do a good job of managing the town’s resources and finances.

According to current public records Durham’s business, Palmetto Family Medical Group had a judgement filed by the SC Department of Employment and Workforce as recently as Oct. 10, in the amount of $6,743 and has had other financial judgments involving contract disputes with two former doctors and a staffing company.

Durham told The Journal Friday that the amount due to the SC Department of Employment was supposed to be included in a payment schedule arrangement worked out with the agency.

“Any debt I have is old business debt from years ago. All of these issues have been resolved or are being resolved,” Durham said.

“I hope that our town can refocus on creating a positive future and begin to improve our reputation in the surrounding area. We need to concentrate our efforts on becoming a town where we all want to live and raise our families and then we wil see other people and businesses moving into our community.”