By David Meade
During their first meeting of 2017, Pelzer Town Council was urged to begin deciding services they want to provide and heard that a new non-profit has been established to save the hospital building. Council heard comments from two citizens, one with questions about an increase or decrease in water bills and whether there may be a service fee and another with concerns about taxes.
Jimmy Harrison, a resident of Parker Street expressed concerns about possible taxes on cars and boats, as well as property. “People have a hard time paying their water bills,” Harrison said, adding that some will have to choose between medication and bills if the town has taxes.
Harrison was a proponent of the annexation and has been vocal about his support for services including police protection and code enforcement.
The issue of taxes is one of many the council is struggling with as they evaluate what services the town will provide their residents, and how they will pay for those services.
Many residents that supported the annexation process in 2015 did so saying their main reason was getting police protection. An all new town council, with the exception of Mayor Steve McGregor was elected and are beginning the second year of their terms.
Over the last year, Pelzer officials have looked at options for law enforcement including a possible arrangement with West Pelzer or establishing their own police department.
As the realization of the costs of creating a new police department sank in, town officials also realized that building a town and providing services other than water, sewer and trash pick up, is no easy task.
The biggest obstacle facing Pelzer officials is deciding what services to provide and then setting a tax base to cover the cost of providing those services.
Former Town Administrator now consultant Skip Watkins and Town Attorney Jimmy King have been in the process of evaluating tax revenue the town could expect to receive and recently told Council that it will probably be 2018 before any revenue could come in.
In his report Tuesday, King recommended that council have a series of citizen input meetings to determine what services they want and are willing to pay for.
“Nobody likes taxes,” King said, stating that police protection was the main driving force for the annexation.
King said the town needs to decide what type of tax they want and “if annexation is what you really wanted to do.”
He said franchise fees will not be enough to pay for additional services. He urged council to “decide the base services and what they are willing to pay for.”
King said his concern is “expenditures with no ability to pay for those expenditures.”
He said town officials will have to get “real busy now” in order to have tax revenue a year from now.
Following the meeting both the town attorney and mayor Steve McGregor said “unincorporating” the new town is not being considered. King said he only mentioned unincorporating as an option but council will have to begin deciding soon what services the town wants to provide their citizens.
Councilman Roger Scott reported that he and the mayor had met with West Pelzer Mayor Blake Sanders and Councilman Jimmy Jeanes to discuss the joint sewer operations and the feasibility study. Scott said the discussions were “going good.”
In other business, Council approved moving forward on a feasibility study with REWA. Mayor McGregor said the study is to determine if there are possible benefits for the town and REWA if REWA were to take over the town’s sewer system and manage the lift station.
Council approved hiring Arnett Muldrow as the consultant for a Master Plan project for the Hwy. 8 corridor from the Saluda River to the West Pelzer Fire Department. The towns of Pelzer and West Pelzer recently received a Municipal Association of South Carolina grant of $25,000 for the joint project.
Mayor McGregor reported Pelzer is applying for a $48,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant for a Master Plan for the town. A public meeting is scheduled for Jan. 23, he said.
Council set their meeting date schedule for the year to be at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the Pelzer Community Building.
Councilman Will Ragland announced that a new non-profit organization has been established to raise money for renovation projects in Pelzer, starting with the old hospital building.
Ragland said he has been considering how to make use of the hospital building which he said is an unused town asset with history. The building was built in 1890 and used as a public Lyceum and then later served as the town’s hospital. It was home for the Pelzer rescue squad until their new building was constructed and has remained unused and neglected for years.
Ragland said he would like to make the building usable, giving it a second life and saving it. “One of the challenges is the town has no way to pay for it.” he said.
As a result Ragland said he has formed a new non-profit, called Restore Pelzer, to raise money.
He said the organization will seek out major donors and see if enough money can be raised to restore the building for possible use as a new town hall/municipal center.
He said the board will be made up of people in Pelzer and the mission for the non-profit will be to restore historic structures in the town.
Council gave their approval for the new non-profit to move forward and begin raising money.
A town council workshop will be held on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at the commuity building. The next council meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Feb. 14. A citizens workshop is scheduled for Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. at the community building.