Pelzer council grapples with providing services for a new town

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By Stan Welch

The Pelzer Town Council continues to work and struggle with the task of expanding the town’s services to an additional five hundred or so citizens. In a work shop held Tuesday night, several issues, including the possible fate of the town’s recreation and athletic programs, were discussed.

The meeting began with the members of Council establishing a timetable for achieving certain goals set in previous planning sessions. The deadline set to have a plan to establish a police department was August 1. That date was also set for the deadline to have a plan for the use of the old hospital building.

September 1 is the date set to have a proposal for the best use of the various parcels of town owned property. Those options may include either public or private use of the property.

A common theme throughout the evening was the growing awareness of just how much work needs to be done to establish the much larger municipality which now exists, as well as how much of that work is actually building a foundation from which to start.

Mayor Steve McGregor, during a discussion of the current services being offered, and the possible need to increase the fees charged for those services, touched on the subject of the town’s challenges.

“Not many mill hills have gone on to become towns. We’re really starting over here, in some very basic ways. Those of us elected to serve on this council were elected because we are expected to do what needs to be done to establish a town that can sustain itself.”

Councilman Will Ragland, in a later discussion of the recreation program,expanded on that point. “The mills abandoned us when they closed, and left us with the remnants to work with and build on.”

On the subject of fees and services, Town Clerk Heather Holcombe stated that of the monthly fee for garbage collection, the town actually subsides $2.73 of the $6.83 charged to each customer. She also pointed out that town residents aren’t currently required to use the service, and asked Council’s permission to have the town attorney draw up an ordinance that would require all residents to use the service.

Brad West also told the Council that currently, the condition of the town’s water lines is so poor that approximately thirty per cent of the water is being lost to leaks each month. As a result of that, and the overall condition of the lines, water pressure in some parts of town is in the range of forty to forty five pounds per square inch (PSI). DHEC standards require pressure of twenty five PSI.

West’s information sparked a brief discussion of a possible project to replace and rehabilitate the lines, but a consensus was quickly reached to postpone any such effort until the sewer system upgrade is completely finished, and all its financial ramifications are known.

The issue of chronic delinquent accounts came up, and following considerable discussion, Holcombe was authorized to implement an increase in the delinquent fee from forty dollars to fifty dollars. The customer would also be required to make that payment in person at the town hall.

During this part of the meeting, Mayor McGregor saying that no one took the job planning on getting rich, suggested cutting the mayor’s salary in half, along with the members of council. Any such formal proposal will have to be presented in a legally convened meeting of the Council. In the workshop format, no votes can be taken.

The focus of the meeting inexorably came to rest on the recreation department.

Pelzer Town Clerk Heather Holcombe gave a summary of the expenses involved in operating the town’s various activities, as well as the expenses that would still exist if those programs were reduced or terminated altogether.

“If you think the town will save $158,000 by shutting the recreation department down, that’s wrong. About a hundred thousand dollars of those expenses involved things like benefits and phone services and equipment – these things were spread across various accounts to spread the costs to the various departments percentage wise. If we close the rec department, those expenses will still exist. They’ll just be spread across fewer departments.”

The issue of contracting out the grass cutting operations for the town came up, as it has frequently done on the street corners and in the restaurants in town in recent weeks.

Those contractual arrangements were put in place prior to the wholesale changes to the town council in the last election.

Town employee John Roache defended the practice by explaining that paying certified wastewater personnel to cut grass is not cost efficient.

Considerable discussion arose as town officials questioned the operations of the recreation department program and the current arrangement director B. J. Thomkins has with the town of Williamston .

(See separate story)