By David Meade
During their meeting Tuesday, Pelzer Town Council approved first reading on their 2016-17 budget which reflects the town’s decision to not continue funding a recreation program which was operating at a $23,000 loss and had become a drain on limited finances. There was no discussion on the budget before or after the vote, however considerable discussion on the recreation program was held during a worksession held on Monday and at the end of the meeting. (See separate story)
Council went into a brief executive session for a personnel and legal discussion related to the budget prior the actual vote. Upon returning to regular open session Mayor McGregor announced that the town’s recreation director B. J. Tompkins had resigned. He also said he had talked with the town’s longtime community building and senior program director Shelby Stanton about the program being ended.
Funding for both positions was being eliminated in the town’s 2016-17 budget being voted on Tuesday. With no other discussion, council entertained first reading on the budget and unanimously approved it with funding for the recreation department eliminated except for insurance, utilities and upkeep.
Second reading on the budget is tentatively scheduled for Monday June 13. The June council meeting which would normally be on Tuesday, June 14 will be held on Monday due to the primary election being held on Tuesday.
At the end of the meeting, McGregor addressed the decision by council to eliminate funding for the town’s recreation department.
McGregor said that he and council have evaluated the Pelzer rec program to see if it could be saved.
“Pelzer has done that (provided funding for the recreation program) over the years,” McGregor said. “Right now we are having to pay for it and it costs the town. Pelzer only had about 20 kids from the town.”
“We are trying to get some service in place. Primarily police protection is the number one goal,”he said.
“There are some things that may have to be cut. We are having to find ways to take care of the town,” he said.
McGregor said he played in the textile leagues when he came to Pelzer in 1968 and understands the sentiments residents have for the program.
As he has done for the last year or so, McGregor explained that the town is having to adjust to the mills not being there.
“The textile tournaments are long gone,” he said. “That is just the way the world is right now. When Pelzer was strong, and the mills were running, they weren’t having to pay $10,000 a month for sewer project or for Greenville Water. The towns water was on town property and they didn’t have DHEC. It was the golden era back then,” he said. “Unfortunately this town lives in the real world and it is being forced on us.”
“There is no tax base to pay for recreation. Maybe another town can take it over. Most kids participating in the past ten years are not from Pelzer. Right now we are faced with some tough decisions,” McGregor said. “We couldn’t justify paying out what we’ve been paying. We are going forward with the budget.”
He urged residents to come to the work session in two weeks to offer input and ideas.
“It is a hard row to hoe,” he said. “We ask that you bear with us.”
McGregor said the town is upgrading sewer lines that were laid 50-60 years ago and that water lines may be next.
“If the town is going to make it, these are some of the tough choices,” he said.
Councilman Will Ragland said since they took office, the new council has looked at the budget to find out exactly what they were spending, how to save money, and not impose taxes. They also began looking at how to provide police protection. “No one wants to cut recreation,” he said.
He said the town was losing $12,000 to $21,000 annually on the rec program.”Our goal was to balance the budget and to save Pelzer rec,” he said. “The kids need something to do.”
Ragland said the council is in the middle of trying to save Pelzer Rec and have a balanced budget instead of losing money, and possibly paying for a police officer.
“B.J. resigned before we could find it,” Ragland said. “We have been working really hard to make this work, to do this with no taxes and provide police protection. We are doing all we can do. Every time we meet we talk about it. B. J. resigned before we could fix it.”
Councilman Roger Scott said he was totally surprised when Tompkins resigned his position. “We ask him for time,” Scott said. “We’ve been working hard on our budget,” Scott said. “The kids need a place to play.”
“The town of Pelzer has had the burden on it this whole time,” Scott said. “We want to keep it going for the kids, but it costs money.”
McGregor said he had talked with Williamston Mayor Mack Durham about the towns’ recreation program and they plan to get back together to talk about a proposal. “We are looking at things to continue,” he said
Williamston councilman Rockey Burgess was in the audience and addressed the situation.
Burgess said the program had been combined about a year ago with Pelzer and Williamston providing funding to Tompkins as the program director.
“I don’t think Williamston will turn away any kids from Pelzer or West Pelzer in the Pelzer-Williamston rec program,” Burgess said
He said over fifty percent of the kids in the program are not in the three towns, but reside in the county. There was also mention of possible county funding.
“I think this can be worked out,” Burgess said.
“Our kids mingle together, go to school together and play together. To say Williamston is not doing its part is just not fair,” Burgess said referring to comments made earlier in the meeting.
Burgess said he would like to look into an option of forming a 501C3 with each municipality contributing to it.
There was also mention of forming a Palmetto Youth Association.
West Pelzer Councilman Jimmy Jeanes said he would look into possible funds in West Pelzer that could help with recreation.
“There could be an organization established that everybody could be a part in,” he said. “All three towns would have the opportunity to put in place.”
“We can work together and accomplish more,” Jeanes said. “We dont have to be one town but we can work together as different towns.
Jeanes said the towns will look at what they can to help the citizens.
“We will work with you to get this police protection going,” he said. “We will work together to do this.”
In other business, Department Head Brad West reported that work has started back on the town’s sewer upgrade project with workers on several streets on the upper mill area. He said they will be working on pipe bursting on Courtney and Lyman streets where there should be less of a mess than other areas.
Mayor Steve McGregor announced that a citizen workshop will be held at 7 p.m. on May 24. The mayor said those in attendance will be divided into five teams with the mayor and council on one of each to listen to ideas and input from citizens. McGregor said ideas will be written down and the group will come back together to discuss. “There might be some innovative ideas,” he said.
Council approved final reading on an election ordinance providing for staggered terms for mayor and council members.
The mayor and two top vote getters in the last election will go to four year terms when the ordinance takes effect on their next term. The other two councilmembers will remain on a two year term until the next election cycle and then go to a four year term.
Pelzer Mills Property Chairman Larry Coker announced a community outreach meeting being held Thursday, May 12 at 6 p.m. at the community building. Coker said that there will be “plenty of answers” to questions about plans and cleanup projects the organization is overseeing on the mill properties.
Coker also said that following a meeting with the governor’s office and input from a recent meeting with a representative of SCPRT and the Department of Commerce, it was clear the the Pelzer Heritage Commission (PHC) and Pelzer needed a master plan to apply for grants. Coker said he had a contact in Columbia who is doing a master plan for another small mill town and may be interested in working on one for Pelzer.
He suggested the town of Pelzer and PHC could partner to talk about having a Master Plan completed. The estimated cost is $30,000 to $50,000 he said.
There are grants and other funding partnerships available to help with the cost, he said.