By David Meade
During a budget work shop held Tuesday, Williamston Town Council members and department heads previewed the town’s 2016-17 budget. The proposed budget includes a tax increase as well as possible increases in the water/sewer rate and other fees.If the town does increase the millage rate, it will be the first time in years. Currently any tax millage increase is limited due to Act 388 and based on CPI and growth. There was some dicussion about raising the garbage fee, which was reduced slightly several years ago.
Williamston Mayor Mack Durham said the town has absorbed increasing costs of insurance for town emplyees as well as water rates for several years. Mayor Durham explained that the town has absorbed annual increases in insurance premiums for employees, effectively giving them a raise and the town continues to cover one hundred percent of employee premiums.
Councilman Otis Scott said he would like to see a three percent cost of living raise for employees, especially since the mayor and council will see increases in their salaries in January.
Street Department Head David Rogers said the town’s equipment is antiquated and increasingly requires maintenance.
Police Chief Tony Taylor said the department is looking at how to cover overtime for festivals and events and plans to increase policing efforts, particularly with traffic. He said maintenance on vehicles is becoming an issue and uniforms will need to be looked at.
The budget does include a lease/purchase of three new police patrol vehicles.
Captain Kevin Marsee said the department is looking at purchasing three AWD Ford Interceptors, fully equipped, at $10,500 each per year. The option will be new vehicles with mininum maintenance.
Marsee said the last new vehicle was purchased at $32,550 and equipped separately.
Overall, the police department budget actually reflects a decrease.
In the Parks and Recreation Department, there was some discussion about the recreation department. Currently the town’s rec department is headed by parttime director B.J. Tompkins.
The department program offers baseball, softball and T-ball. The town does provide soccer fields with lighting, however the soccer program is run by the Palmetto Soccer Club with no funding from the town.
There was discussion about adding one position to the Parks and Recreation Department.
Rogers said employees are pulled from the department when they are short in the street (water/sewer) department or as needed to help in other areas.
There was some discussion about possibly using hospitality tax funding.
Williamston Fire Chief Steve Ellison said the department had some maintenance costs related to a commode leak and his budget includes new tires for a Ford Explorer driven by the chief.
He said the town’s three pumper vehicles are requiring increasing maintenance and will eventually need to be replaced. The department currently operates 1992, 1994 and 1998 model pumpers. Ellison said the town will need to consider replacing one of the vehicle in the next three years.
He also added that at some point in the future, the town will be looking at hiring someone to replace him. “As long as I have good people, it is not a problem,” he said.
Currently the department is all volunteer with firefighters only paid a small amount per each call they respond to.
Maintenance on vehicles is often done by the firemen, some of whom are mechanics, saving the town thousands of dollars. “We do our own work,” Ellison said.
The chief said the explorer program with the Career and Technology Center has been a success.
The fire department budget also includes funding for more training for firefighters.
In the Water Department, the town is considering an increase in DHEC fees from 75 cents to $1 and possibly in water rates.
The town is comparing their rates and fees to neighboring towns and water systems.
“We are no higher than anyone else,” Mayor Mack Durham said about the town’s water and sewer rates. It appears to be more because the town’s water bills include garbage pickup and sewer, he said.
According to Durham, many municipalities are going to a zero minimum water rate then charging for usage by the meter.
There was also some discussion about costs related to meter tampering and sprinkler heads.
The town’s Main Street program budget and funding from the Hospitality tax fund were also briefly discussed.
Although not reflected in this year’s budget, the town will have to begin thinking about replacing aging equipment in the Street Department and Fire Depaartment.
The proposed budget shows revenues of $2,947,373 and expenses of $2,947,373.
Department budget expense totals include:
Other Admin $249,200; Admin $557,147; Main Street $70,000; Street Department $406,784; Judge $8293; Police Department $949,796; SRO $166,369: Parks and Recreation $219,958; Fire Department $134,824; Hospitality tax fund $185,000.
Council will consider the proposed budget at their next meeting Monday May 2.