By Stan Welch
More than forty people filled the Williamston Town Council chambers for a town hall meeting Tuesday night. District Seven County Councilwoman Cindy Wilson hosted the meeting, which was intended to let her constituents express their opinions on a variety of issues.
Among the crowd were various county and municipal officials, including Mayor Mack Durham, Councilman Otis Scott, Councilman David Harvell, West Pelzer Mayor Peggy Paxton, Pelzer Town Clerk Heather Holcombe, County Administrator Rusty Burns, and Transportation Director Holt Hopkins.
The condition of the roads was the first topic raised.
Wilson explained that the county dedicates only about $500,000 to the purchase of asphalt each year. But she added that a new system of using large pre-formed culverts to replace traditional bridges wherever possible has reduced those costs by approximately sixty per cent.
Wilson also explained that the available monies come from various sources, including approximately $2.6 million a year in C-funds, which the Anderson County Transportation Committee distributes.
Mayor Paxton, who worked for SCDOT, pointed out that the state gas tax hasn’t been raised in over thirty years, while the costs of road repair and construction have risen steadily. The message was not enthusiastically received.
The issue of the Gray Drive Bridge was once again a subject of great interest. Wilson reported that it appears that the railroad will be required to meet its responsibilities concerning the bridge. The general tone of the meeting was that the bridge should be opened, but only if it is restored to a safe condition.
Ms. Wilson informed the crowd that the county council’s finance committee had voted earlier in the day to recommend acceptance of the Williamston Police department into the central dispatch system to the full Council for a vote.
Wilson and Burns assured the people that the town would not have to pay anything as a result of that inclusion.
“There are six funded, but unfilled, positions currently open in Central Dispatch,” Burns said. “We may need four more people but we have the slots for them. So in next year’s budget, we can absorb the Williamston load without additional cost.”
The fire department and EMS squad is already on the county 911 system and will not be affected. Several years ago, the town chose not to join the county wide system, but has since realized that going it alone is more costly and leads to longer response times; since 911 calls to the county concerning events inside the town limits have to be relayed to the town’s dispatchers.
A lengthy and spirited discussion of the proposed county wide hospitality tax followed. Several representatives of the Imagine Anderson recreational committee were on hand to explain and to push the tax, extolling the results that the various municipalities in the county have seen from their individual hospitality taxes.
Williamston, for example, collects tens of thousands of dollars each year; money used for recreation and to promote tourism. Recent improvements to the Mineral Spring Park were funded by those revenues.
The new proposal is to extend the two per cent tax on all prepared foods purchased to the unincorporated areas of the county. Currently, many of the restaurants along the interstate are exempt from the tax; a circumstance that leaves as much as $3 million a year on the table, so to speak.
Heather Holcombe, Pelzer Town Clerk, explained that her town’s recreation organization serves children from the surrounding area.
“Our growth since 2006 has been enormous, but we have no money to continue to provide all these services,” Holcombe said. “I am almost certainly going to have to close the Pelzer pool this summer because we lose about $20,000 a year on the pool and recreation. Once it is gone, it won’t reopen. If anyone has any money, let me know.”
Given Pelzer’s remarkably small corporate footprint, which contains less than fifty residences, it is questionable whether passing a town hospitality tax will provide any relief; although such a tax is up for first reading at the next Pelzer town council meeting.
A countywide tax, however, will be evenly distributed and could be of significant help to the town.
Councilwoman Wilson said that she supports putting the question to a vote as a referendum. “I receive so many calls against this tax, and so many calls for this tax that I just think the people should be allowed to decide for themselves.”
Wilson also promised to hold additional meetings in the future.