By Stan Welch
The Pelzer Town Council gathered for a budget workshop just hours ahead of a scheduled first reading of that budget. Trey Eubanks, a consultant who assists small towns with such endeavors, cautioned the council that the COVID 19 pandemic might recur later this year, increasing an already significant impact on the state’s economy, and the various levels of government.
“I would advise just slowing down on some of your projects, just easing up until you see what happens. Go head and get a budget in place. You can always revisit it and amend it later,” said Eubanks, who along with town clerk Cheryl Boudreau, put the proposed budget together.
Instead, the Council spent the next two hours crafting creative ways to access the town’s hospitality tax funds. Those funds are generated by a two per cent tax on hot or prepared foods sold in the town limits. The funds can be used for promotional events and other projects with a tourism oriented component to them. Council Eddie Waits, who largely dominated the discussion of the budget, proposed using some of the revenues to fund an off duty sheriff’s deputy to provide an additional sixteen hours of police protection on the weekends.
The town already employs an off duty deputy for eight hours per day during the work week. That costs the town approximately seventy three thousand dollars a year. Waits said that the deputy could patrol the parks and the town’s boat ramps and ballfields, thereby satisfying the tourism component.
According to Waits, the approximate $29,000 cost of the two additional shifts could be split between the hospitality tax revenues and the general fund, with each source paying approximately $14,560. Waits said that the deputy could patrol the parks and the town’s boat ramps and ballfields, thereby satisfying the tourism component, according to Waits. Waits also proposed employing a magistrate on a part time basis, with an eye towards garnering more of the fines generated by the citations and arrests made by the deputies.
The deputies would enforce custom ordinances passed by the town council, in addition to the county ordinances currently being enforced. Eubanks suggested pursuing an intergovernmental agreement with Anderson County to perhaps support that effort by encouraging one of its existing magistrates to fill that role for the town. Waits also pointed out that the specifically dedicated magistrate might be more likely to “put some teeth” into his sentences if he saw the same offenders over and over. The council was unable to find a way to pay the magistrate with hospitality tax revenues.
The budget, if approved as presented, would transfer a total of eighty five thousand dollars from the existing hospitality tax account to various other projects, including a $14,000 project to improve the lighting at the ball fields; $16,000 for tree work to be done at the monkey park; $5000 for a mural on the front of the post office building; and $10,000 for a proposal to create a brand for the town. No bids have been accepted on any of those projects; the amounts mentioned were simply budgeted for. The bids could come in either higher or lower.
The mayor also proposed $10,000 for architectural services related to the renovation of the community building, but Council members Waits and Mike Matthews expressed their desire to tackle the hospital renovation first. When Eubanks expressed skepticism that hospitality tax funds could be used for that project, Mayor Pro Tem Will Ragland suggested including a historical element, such as a museum about the mill town, thereby establishing a tourism component. “I like where you’re headed with that,” said Eubanks.
Ragland also pointed out that his personal research indicates that the Seven Eleven gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Highways 20 and 8 is actually located in the Pelzer town limits, and not West Pelzer. “That store generates a great deal of hospitality tax money, and I think it belongs to us. I have presented my evidence to Mayor Sanders and town clerk Paula Payton and asked them to refute it if they can. I’ve heard nothing but crickets.”
During their meeting later that evening, Pelzer Town Council gave first reading approval to the proposed budget and will announce the date of the required public hearing soon. They also approved the expenditure of ten thousand dollars in additional Christmas decoration, as well as thirty one hundred dollars to mount ten portraits/banners of the residents graduating from Palmetto High School next month.