West Pelzer approves budget, expects increasing surplus

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By David Meade

West Pelzer Town Council approved final reading on their 2016-17 budget Tuesday, but not without some discussion on recreation and the fall festival. The approved budget reflects improving finances for the town that just over a year ago was facing borrowing money to cover expenses. The $395,954 General Fund budget shows an increasing contingency fund that currently has $43,141 and is expected to increase over the next year according to Mayor Blake Sanders.

The budget shows a decrease in revenues and expenses of $66,753 from last year reflecting a decrease in expenses due to changes made by the council over the last year and the fact that a $40,000 Tax Anticipation Note was needed and had to be repaid last year. Lower revenues also reflect an anticipated decline in court fines due to a reduction in man hours at the police department.

Changes made by the town over the last year have made a huge difference in the budget, Sanders said.

The Public Works Department Water and Sewer budget currently has a $93,347 fund balance.

The Water/Sewer department is budgeted at $562,047 and reflects an increase in garbage fees associated with the Waste Industries contract.

The hospitality tax revenue is budgeted at $35,400.

Before voting on the budget there was considerable discussion on funding for recreation and the annual fall festival.

In the end, Council decided half of the previous amount budgeted for the annual fall festival ($5,000) will be set aside to help fund recreation for children residing in West Pelzer.

During discussions on recreation, Councilman Jeanes recommended West Pelzer officials meet with Pelzer officials and possibly Williamston officials about their plans for recreation for the area.

Pelzer officials recently discontinued the town’s longtime funding for recreation resulting in considerable discussion among Pelzer, West Pelzer and Williamston officials on how to provide recreation for area children.

The Town of Williamston has offered to continue funding for a recreation program for the area, requesting some funding from each of the municipalities and the county. No details on an area recreation program have been worked out at this time, however officials continue to discuss the issue at each of their meetings.

Jeanes pointed out that West Pelzer received a letter with a proposal from Williamston but no formal meeting has been held about combining the recreation program.

Jeanes did recommend West Pelzer provide some funding to help pay for recreation, with the funding coming from line item for the fall festival.

He also stated that Pelzer had provided a recreation program for years and that he supported West Pelzer providing some funding for a program. He said Pelzer had also helped West Pelzer over the years.

“We need to give back some of the things we’ve taken,” he said.

Jeanes suggested meeting with Pelzer and Williamston officials to see exactly what each town needs to contribute to provide a recreation program for children in the tri-city area.

Councilman Donnie Jeanes agreed stating, “Pelzer needs to give us some guidelines on what they need.”

In a related discussion, Councilman Jim Riddle said he supported providing some amount of funding for recreation for kids from West Pelzer, and that the town should look at what is being provided free at the fall carnival.

“We have kids coming from everywhere,” he said.

The town has provided free food including hot dogs and pizza, as well as candy for those attending the event in the past. The town previously budgeted $5000 for the event.

Mayor Sanders said he felt very comfortable about soliciting donations to help fund the fall carnival and to create a new line item for recreation. He also supported sitting down with Pelzer and Williamston officials to look at how any funding provided by West Pelzer would be used.

He also noted the town has funds in reserve. We have $57,000 in the general fund reserve and $74,000 in the water/sewer reserve fund. Last year we had $50,000 between both. Sanders also pointed out that Councilman Jimmy Jeanes was right when he pushed for measures to improve the town’s financial situation last year.

Before taking a final vote approving the budget, there was some discussion about adding a part-time officer in the police department and training for officers and reserves.

The $958,000 budget was approved unanimously.

Mayor Sanders pointed out that the approved budget did not include a line item designated specifically for the proposal to help fund the recreation department proposed by Williamston. He also noted that West Pelzer will address providing funding from the town’s hospitality tax fund at a later time.

Additional details on the final budget will be published in the next edition of The Journal.

In other business, easements are being finalized for work on Stewart Street, Spring Street and Mill Street. It was also reported that 36 faulty meters are being replaced.

Councilman Johnny Rogers reported the police department is pursuing a grant which will allow the purchase ofballistic vests for officers.

Council unanimously approved a motion by Mayor Sanders to provide a credit on the water bill for the West Pelzer Fire Deparment. The volunteer fire department will be billed but will receive up to a $1200 credit yearly from the town for their water.

Councilman Jimmy Jeanes said it continues to be harder to get volunteers. “I have always felt like we need to take care of the fire department,” he said.

Council approved funding of $997 for the indigent court defense fund.

Near the end of the meeting, Council went into a cramped back room for an executive session lasting approximately 30 minutes to receive legal advice on a contract.

Upon returning to open session, council unanimously approved a motion by the mayor to provide funding for an appraisal and to seek funding for a building for new municipal offices.

During citizen comments, the discussion was all about burning of leaves and disposal of leaves.

The town currently only allows burning on the first and third Saturday between November 1 and March 31 which is a problem for some residents.

In addition to allowing burning, under the new garbage pickup contract with Waste Managment, bagged leaves will be picked up three times a year, Sanders said.