By Stan Welch
It’s rare to find a town or county council whose agenda doesn’t include a reading of their budget at this time of the year, but the Anderson County Council plans to have at least one more budget workshop before bringing the county’s budget to the floor for a final vote.
As a result, the Council moved smoothly through an agenda which saw third reading approval given to the ordinances needed to approve the financial incentives given to E & I Engineering, which plans to create at least 250 jobs in the coming years. The company, which is occupying an existing building near Exit 21 on Interstate 85, is expected to have a total economic impact of $400 million over the next twenty years.
District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson made a presentation on several aspects of the pending budget, and on the county’s financial status in general.
Among the salient points she made is the encouraging fact that the County has reduced its bonded indebtedness by more than $20 million since she came on board in 2002.
“We were burdened with twenty nine million dollars in debt at that time. We had a half million dollar interest payment due that wasn’t even budgeted. This administration and this Council has worked very hard to reduce that debt load to approximately six million as of now. I think the people of Anderson County should be very proud of that fact.”
She also pointed that, while still inadequate, the County’s budgeted amount of $1.5 million for road projects is a big step in the right direction. She reiterated that even the county’s lowest paid employees receive a generous benefits package, bringing their overall compensation up well above the salary amount.
Wilson also addressed the issue of the county’s legal expenditures, which she says the “local” newspaper continues to distort. Those legal costs have been a topic of constant friction, largely because Councilwoman Gracie Floyd has repeatedly brought them up to chastise the Council for their continued pursuit to recoup the severance package the outgoing Council gave Joey Preston in 2008.
Wilson produced figures from the finance department which showed that Preston, in his first five years as administrator, increased the county’s legal expenses by more than a thousand per cent, from $86,312 to $898, 683.
The year that the severance was awarded, the legal fees were just under a million dollars, and the next year, as the new Council initiated legal actions and investigations, those costs spiked at $1.1 million.
Wilson also repeated Council Chairman Tommy Dunn’s comments that the County never filed a single lawsuit, but only defended itself against frivolous suits filed mostly by Candy Kern-Fuller, Floyd’s personal lawyer.
Wilson concluded by telling the small audience that this year’s current legal costs are just below $320,000 two weeks before the end of the budget year, a figure that is the lowest in fifteen years.