By David Meade
Pelzer Town Council decided Tuesday to approve first reading on their 2016-17 budget which reflects their decision to cut funding for the town’s recreation program which was operating at a $23,000 loss.
The decision eliminates operation and maintenance expenses for football and baseball programs, the gym, the ballfield and community building that was budgeted last year at $106,414. Under the new budget some expense is included for insurance, utilities and maintenance for the community building, gym and ballfield area, budgeted at only $12,869.
The decision to cut the Recreation Department includes discontinuing part-time salaries for Shelby Stanton, who oversaw the Community Building and senior program and for B. J. Tompkins, who oversaw the town’s athletic program.
The town has struggled with finances and funding for the rec department years. In 2012 they increased fees for renting the community building and made other decisions including cutting employee hours and cutting off street lights that were outside the town limits in an effort to save money.
Town officials were considering closing the Pelzer Pool in 2012 but decided to keep it open, even though the rec department was operating at a $68,000 loss.
Closing of the pool a year later was another sign that the town could no longer provide some things that had been taken for granted when the mills were operating in Pelzer.
At the time there was some interest in annexation. Over the next two years, the annexation movement began to gain momentum and council members and residents began talking about one of their main concerns, how to provide more police protection.
At one time Pelzer and West Pelzer worked out a short lived agreement to have a West Pelzer police officer patrol in Pelzer, but the agreement only covered the four streets that were in the town at the time.
Police protection was one of the driving forces behind support for the town’s annexation, which was approved last year, and is a priority for an all new council representing the expanded Town of Pelzer, which now includes the upper and lower mill villages.
During the Pelzer Town Council meeting Tuesday, Councilmembers and Mayor Steve McGregor indicated that they had spent considerable time and effort in trying to come up with a way to keep the recreation department operating and how to provide police protection.
In the end, and with the budget vote Tuesday, it was decided the Pelzer Recreation Program was to be discontinued.
Both issues were the focus of a worksession held Monday . About half of the two hour meeting included discussion on the recreation department and the resignation of director B. J. Tompkins on Friday.
The other half was on police protection. West Pelzer Mayor Blake Sanders and West Pelzer Police Chief offered details of a preliminary proposal to provide police protection in Pelzer.
Under the proposal, a new officer, complete with a new patrol vehicle, would be added to the West Pelzer Police Department giving them a full time force with four officers who would then be available to offer police protection in Pelzer. The entire department including four full time, four part-time and four reserve officers would be available for both towns. The department would remain under the current police chief and Town of West Pelzer, with contract service for Pelzer.
There was some discussion about additional fines the department may generate and how they would be divided between the two towns, which will be discussed in future negotiations on the proposal.