By David Meade
As anxiety and anticipation builds concerning the upcoming referendum on the Pelzer Annexation, citizens on both sides are asking questions and attempting to provide answers.
Several residents of Pelzer , speaking to The Journal recently about the annexation process, raised a number of the questions and concerns.
The first question being asked by most is what benefits will annexation provide for me that I am not already getting. What are the benefits we will get if we are annexed into the “town” of Pelzer.
The second is what will it cost.
One of the main things people in support of annexation are for is the possibility of providing police protection for the town. A crime watch program has been set up and meeting for several months.
Since most of “Pelzer” is not incorporated and is actually in the county, the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office currently provides law enforcement protection if they are called to the area.
There have been questions of whether the sheriff’s department would provide a dedicated officer to Pelzer if enough people requested it instead of going through the costs associated with establishing a police department.
The Journal contacted Sheriff John Skipper and asked if his department would or could provide a dedicated law enforcement presence to Pelzer, in the event that annexation fails at the polls.
The Sheriff said, “At current staffing levels, it would be impossible for me to do that on an around the clock basis. A few years ago, we entered into that sort of arrangement with the town of Pendleton, and I believe the cost was about six hundred thousand dollars a year. Of course, my deputies currently respond to calls in the Pelzer area, but there are no deputies assigned specifically to that area. If they get a call to Piedmont, for example, they will respond.”
So if Pelzer wants police protection, they have several options including asking West Pelzer or Williamston if they would or could provide protection or establishing their own police department.
The West Pelzer police department budget is $218,000 for four officers including the police chief.
Williamston’s Police Department budget of $961,124 is for 19 officers including the chief, three resource officers and a part-time codes enforcement officer. Total includes salaries, Fica/Medicare Retirement; Health Insurance, Repairs and Maintenance;R&M on Vehicles and Facilities, Supplies, Uniforms, LawTrax system; electricity/gas, phones and fuel.
Also there is a question about road maintenance and grass cutting along roadways currently being provided by the Anderson County Public Works Department.
Anderson County officials told The Journal that in the event that annexation passes at the polls, services they provide including grass cutting and mowing would cease along any of the roads and public areas that were annexed. The town would become responsible at that point.
Another concern is taxes. Currently Pelzer has no taxes other than Franchise Fees paid on Charter Cable, Duke Energy and Fort Hill natural gas. The franchise fee is three percent of the total utility bill. This fee is billed through the utility company providing a service within a municipality. On a $100 bill, this amounts to $3.
The biggest concern for most people is taxes. What is it going to cost?
Answer: At present Pelzer has no taxes. If the town residents want street lights, police protection, or any other services residents will have to pay the costs through a tax.
Question:What is the short term plan?
Answer: There is no short term plan. If annexation passes, mayor Steve McGregor said the town will listen to residents suggestions of what they want before making any decisions. “We are taking baby steps.”
There will also be an election in November, so any registered voter in the Pelzer voting precinct, which will be in the Town of Pelzer, could vote for mayor and councilmembers. Residents could also run for office.
Opponents say they have not been notified about the annexation. There should have been something mailed out or fliers with someone going door to door to let people know about it.
Response: Persons who want to see the annexation are doing this over the next two weeks.
Other issues are more complicated.
Some residents still feel they have been taken advantage of and there is concern about water bill fluctuation and outside water rates.
Answer: The town has kept water rates the same even though they could charge more for outside water/sewer service, and many towns, including Williamston and West Pelzer, do.
Concerned Citizens of Pelzer hosted an outreach meeting last Thursday which was attended by several residents of the Pelzer voting precinct who were looking for answers to some of their questions.
Another opportunity for questions and answers will come at the Pelzer Town Council meeting at town hall offices at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 8. Persons interested in the annexation referendum election or with questions about it are being invited to attend the meeting. In the case of an overflow crowd, the council meeting will be moved to the Pelzer gym.
Other issues and advantages being touted will be addressed next week in The Journal.