By Stan Welch
In a highly unusual proceeding Friday afternoon, the Pelzer Town Council met with representatives of the Goldie & Associates engineering firm, as well as a developer who is involved in a major project along the town’s riverfront, and voted to hire Goldie & Associates ( G&A) to operate the town’s water and sewer systems for a four month period, at a cost of $8600 per month.
At the end of the four month period, it is expected that the agreement will be extended at a renegotiated fee.
The decision appears to have been pre-ordained, as evidenced by a brief letter from G&A to Pelzer Mayor Roger Scott dated the day before the meeting, which expressed the firm’s “ understanding Goldie & Associates will become the water distribution and sewer collection operator starting June 1 at midnight.”
The letter also provided the firm’s operator license numbers.
An analysis of the proposal by G&A accompanied the documents.
The proposal, based on the as yet unadopted town budget for 2018-19, anticipates an increase in water and sewer billing revenues in the amount of $64,200. First reading of the budget is scheduled for the June 12 regular meeting of the Council.
The proposal claims that the revenue increase “is anticipated because the current water loss should be cut dramatically by the combination of fixing the current meter problems and finding and repairing leaks in the system.”
No estimates of the cost of those repairs were provided.
The proposal also calls for a transfer of approximately $40,000 from the budgeted $61,900 salaries for the public works department to the line item for professional fees instead.
The town has recently hired Mark Vickery, a former public works employee for the town of West Pelzer.
An increase of approximately $32,000 in fees paid to ReWa is explained as the result of additional billed usage for water.
Where and how that water will be consumed is not reflected in the proposal.
The total expenses for the public works operations increase under the proposal from $702,012 to $736,492; an increase that closely mirrors the cost of the four month contract. According to the figures provided by G&A, there will be a total operating gain of $21,208.
The last paragraph of the analysis states that additional savings in other areas of the budget appear to be available.
It states: “It is our opinion at this time that the result of a Goldie contract and expense savings from other line items could result in an overall savings to the town more than the $33,000 needed to offer the citizens of Pelzer a ‘first 1000 gallons of water free.’ “According to the figures, such an offer would result in a six dollar reduction for most homes and businesses.”
The Special Called Meeting was held at Pelzer Town Hall at four o’clock Friday afternoon, just hours before Goldie was scheduled to assume responsibility for the town’s public works operations.
While the meeting was described as a special called meeting, one of three categories established by the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (SCFOIA), the actions taken prior to and during the meeting were justified by Town Attorney Jimmy King, who described the situation as “an emergency.”
Among those actions, which were questioned by the reporter from The Journal, centered on the inclusion of developer Richard Greer in the twenty four minute executive session held prior to the vote to accept the proposal.
As stated earlier, G&A had apparently already been informed of the decision early enough to provide its operating license information to the town on the day prior to the vote.
When Greer’s inclusion in the closed session was challenged, town attorney King stated that Greer has been providing “financial advice” to the town.
When asked if the job as financial adviser had been advertised, King and Mayor Scott both said that Greer hasn’t been charging the town for the advice, implying that such an informal association wasn’t bound by contractual requirements, or to be perceived as a possible conflict of interest.
Greer, a representative of Upstate Investors, is involved in efforts to bring investment to the area, including development of the Pelzer Mill Properties.
The SCFOIA establishes three categories of meetings. The regular scheduled meeting is intended to regularly address the routine operations of the town.
A Special Called Meeting, which Friday’s meeting was according to the agenda, addresses a specific issue; one which carries no real urgency with it. They are often called in order to squeeze a required reading of an ordinance into a tight time frame, such as a budget.
The Emergency meeting is intended to address time sensitive matters, such as the expiration of the agreement with West Pelzer, which the Pelzer council voided last month.
The emergency nature of the scenario comes into question in light of information shared by an employee of a neighboring town who claimed first hand knowledge that Greer had been pushing for a relationship with G&A for several months.
According to the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the purpose of hiring G&A was to clean up some issues with the town’s water and sewer systems with the goal of getting a higher offer from ReWa to purchase the systems.
West Pelzer recently sold their systems to ReWa for $400,000 and elimination of any debt associated with it; significantly reducing their responsibility for the operation and maintenance of those systems.
Another point of contention between the two towns was the condition in the contract that required Pelzer to pay fifty five per cent of the various costs, including wages and benefits, operating costs such as fuel, and the monthly fees to ReWa.
West Pelzer Mayor Blake Sanders, in a letter to Mayor Scott, dated May 29, reiterated the town’s position that the fifty five per cent provision continues in effect, with the difference that the amount is payable to ReWa.
Scott has stated his opinion that the obligation died with the agreement. The Pelzer Town Council voted last month to end the cooperative agreement with West Pelzer.
When contacted by The Journal, Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, confirmed that the inclusion of Greer in the executive session was indeed permissible. “A body can invite anyone into their closed meetings.”
He also said that the lapsing of the contract for services with West Pelzer was a legitimate use of the emergency meeting, though he questioned why it wasn’t so described on the official agenda.
“Although it appears that they essentially created the emergency by their earlier actions, it doesn’t really factor in. The fact that the term emergency wasn’t used until some of the council’s actions were questioned is evocative, at least,” Rogers said.
He did however question the letter from G&A, received the day before the formal vote, stating the firm’s understanding that they would assume operation as of midnight on June 1.
“Obviously, some understanding had been reached for the firm to send such a correspondence. It certainly seems as if an agreement had been reached earlier. If such a meeting was held, without notice to the media and the public, that meeting would be illegal.”
Until Friday, there have been no discussions nor mention of considering Goldie and Associates to run the town’s utility systems in a public meeting of Pelzer Town Council.