By Stan Welch
The Pelzer Town Council held a citizens’ workshop Tuesday night, an informal gathering that allowed the citizens and the council members to exchange ideas and information. The good news is that the meeting was both cordial and productive. The bad news is that only seven citizens attended. It was apparent that the overall biggest concern of those present continues to be public safety. While police protection seems a key to that issue, fire protection was also discussed; in particular the antiquity of the majority of the town’s fire hydrants.
Councilman Will Ragland and Town Clerk Heather Holcombe explained that the cost of replacing a single fire hydrant can be as high as ten thousand dollars.
Skip Watkins, former town clerk and current consultant, confirmed Ragland’s estimate that there are approximately fifty hydrants that need replacing.
Vicki Shirley asked whether grant funds might be available to replace units, but Holcombe explained that such grant funds are difficult to attain for uses that would come under the heading of maintenance. A suggestion was made that Senator Mike Gambrell, a veteran volunteer firefighter for many years, be approached for any assistance that might be available.
The continued presence of hundreds and hundreds of old wooden pallets at the lower mill site also came up.
Mayor Steve McGregor told the crowd that the funds needed to complete the cleanup of that area, which is also a significant fire hazard, have been secured. “The county will assist in that, but right now they’re waiting for the snakes to die off.”
Another topic of great interest that came up was the question of taxes.
Watkins said that he has been working on a template, or blueprint, for implementing a tax within the town’s expanded limits.
“It is very preliminary but it is dynamic and adjusts the millage depending on which approaches to the tax are considered,” Watkins said. “For example, I included vehicles, rVs, and boats in the preliminary formula. Based on that, a certain millage is needed to achieve the funds required to meet the budget. But if the Council decides not to include those items, the millage would have to rise in order to generate the necessary revenues.”
Ms. Shirley, as well as several other citizens, expressed their willingness to pay their share.
“We all know that these services we want are going to cost money. I, for one, am willing to pay my taxes to have police protection and better fire protection and other things, like keeping the town cleaned up.”
Jimmy Harrison agreed, saying that a majority of the town’s homeowners will qualify for the homestead exemption, which limits their tax liability to ten per cent of the actual amount, with the state footing the rest of the bill.
Duane Wilson, whose wife, Councilwoman Kimberley Wilson, was absent, also stated that nothing is free, including the services that the citizens want from the town.
“This Council has one chance to set the millage where it needs to be, neither too high, nor too low to meet the town’s needs. I know how hard this Council is working to come to grips with this, and I commend them all for their hard work.”
The process involved in establishing a tax base will delay any implementation of the tax before the year 2018.
Mayor McGregor raised the matter of past meetings and the way in which they have been conducted.
“There have been business meetings where I got off too far on the side of letting everyone speak. As we go forward, our business meetings will be more structured,” McGregor said. “Meetings like this one tonight will continue to be held on a somewhat regular basis, so that we can exchange information in an informal setting. I would hope that we can get more people than this to come to those meetings. But when there is business to be done by the town council, we are going to stick to the structured format as much as possible.”
He added, “Pelzer is a unique town in many ways, but there is one way that I think is especially important. Out of all the mill villages in the Upstate, only Pelzer had the mills actually inside the village itself. Pelzer was a mill village that became a town. When the mill sold out, it sold us in many ways. We have a lot to do to put this town where it needs to be. So we are going back to the basics, beginning with how we conduct our business.”