By Stan Welch
More than fifty residents gathered at the Pelzer community building for the town council’s workshop to consider the possible implementation of town ordinances, and the issue of police protection for the recently expanded town.
Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Kimberly Wilson said that she and two other members of the Council had met with county officials to explore which county ordinances the town could adopt and possibly enforce, since the town has no ordinances of its own. She said that animal control and grass cutting/property maintenance were the only two areas that the county could offer assistance.
If the town informed a property owner that their property needed to be cleaned up, and they refused to do so, the town could perform the work and add the cost incurred to the owner’s county property taxes. But she added that the county auditor, Jacky Hunter, made it clear that he had no intention of taking that task on. “He said he had enough trouble just collecting people’s taxes”, said Wilson.
The topic of the meeting then moved to the question of police protection.
West Pelzer Mayor Blake Sanders was on hand to explain his town’s offer for sharing police services. (See related story elsewhere in this issue.)
He began by informing the Pelzer Council that the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office has greatly increased their presence in this part of the county, while also decreasing their response times.
“We have a great relationship with Sheriff McBride. The actions of his department help us enhance our own police activity and presence. We cooperate with his folks and they with us.” Sanders went on to point out that there is a difference between code enforcement and a police presence. “The council needs to decide just what they are looking for.”
Several members of the council stressed that they consider the late night hours to be the crucial ones for a police presence to be in place.
Sanders countered that his rudimentary study of available statistics from the ACSO indicates that between eleven and fourteen per cent of the calls received each day originate between midnight and eight in the morning. “If you want an officer who basically works third shift, your better choice might be to go with the county,” said Sanders, who had previously provided copies of the West Pelzer proposal to the council.
Councilman and mayoral candidate Roger Scott said that the sheriff had offered to provide an off duty, but fully authorized, deputy for as few as three hours a day, at a cost of thirty five dollars an hour. “We can have him for as many hours a night as we are willing to pay for, but there will be a three hour minimum.”
Councilman Will Ragland reiterated the council’s position that they had found a $150,000 surplus in the budget this year, and had money to pursue one of the two offers. Sanders reminded the council that, if they used county deputies for the same eight hours per day that West Pelzer would provide an officer, the costs of either offer would be approximately $70,000 per year.
The members of the audience, who once again joined the discussion, seemed to definitely lean towards a more robust crime oriented police effort, rather than code enforcement. They expressed their concerns over the crime in the community, with particular emphasis on drug usage and sales. “We don’t need a cop writing speeding tickets and stuff,” said one.
Another, who repeatedly expressed his opinion that the county was the way to go, spoke disparagingly about a prior arrangement whereby West Pelzer provided police protection several years ago.
“Those fellows went into the neighborhoods and didn’t know how to handle those people. You can’t bring a hard case in there. For generations, those people had everything taken care of for them. They were nourished and nurtured and cared for, and if you just drop a hard case cop down there, something is going to go down. I’m just telling you.”
County Emergency Management Director David Baker was on hand in what he stressed was not any official role, but the audience continued to address questions to him.
He made it clear that he considered the option of the town eventually having their own police department was the way to go.
“I know you are looking for a stepping stone in that direction, and it will take time,” Baker said. “But no police force will know your town and your people like your own force will. I hope that you will be able to reach that point sometime in the future.”
By Stan Welch