By Stan Welch
Efforts to forge a cooperative effort between the three towns in this corner of the county continued Monday night, as Williamston Mayor Mack Durham appeared before the West Pelzer Town Council and explained the benefits of involvement in the Main Street SC revitalization program. Durham, who along with WP town councilman Blake Sanders also serves on the Palmetto Area Economic Development board, stressed the value of the three towns, Pelzer, West Pelzer and Williamston, speaking with one voice.
“We have lots of great people making efforts to improve our communities, but those efforts are fragmented. If we speak with one voice, we will speak much more loudly:, said Durham. “Combined, our towns represent the second greatest concentration of population in the county.”
“We should strive for cooperation, not competition. Realistically, we are one community. And we will attract more support from those able to provide it if we demonstrate a mature, cooperative attitude.”
The Main Street program is maintained and promoted by the Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC) and has been successful in a number of locations over the years, said Durham. But Durham freely admitted that such success is not without cost.
Over the first year to year and a half, which is essentially the organizational phase, the cost is $10,000 a year. The second and third years cost $7500 per year, and subsequent years generally cost $5000 a year. The program requires a three year committment with a full time director.
Durham pointed out that the MASC had agreed to allow all three towns participate under one umbrella, allowing them to share those costs. He added that an additional required cost would be the employment of a Main Street program coordinator, at a salary of approximately $45,000 a year, including benefits.
Durham said that such an expense would be eligible for hospitality tax funds and expressed his confidence that the Williamston Town Council would vote to budget that amount from the town’s hospitality funds. While the West Pelzer Council expressed their appreciation of Williamston’s willingness to shoulder the cost, they also challenged whether the town would have undue influence on the process as a result.
Mayor Peggy Paxton immediately pointed out that such suspicions would be natural and automatic. “I know that people will worry about that, since Williamston would be paying the person’s salary.”
Paxton’s husband, Kevin, who chairs the West Pelzer Planning Commission also expressed concerns. “Who is going to decide what West Pelzer will be doing to participate?” he asked.
Sanders and Durham explained that the three towns would all have representatives on the local program’s board of directors. “We would hope to have a couple of Council members from each town, as well as planning board members, and others. The strength of this program is that it establishes a consensus first, so that the opposition is minimal, because everyone has already had their say,” said Durham.
Paxton also stated that she felt a mass public forum, involving citizens of all three towns would be very helpful. “I just think letting people see what this is about is the best way to go.”
Durham agreed saying that his presentation was for information only.
“This isn’t a decision that needs to be made tonight. But we are all starting our budget process and we just wanted to provide this information to you so you could consider it as you work on your budget,” he said. “Williamston will probably proceed with this program in either case, but as I said, our voice is much stronger if we speak as one.”