Property purchase budget amendment gets approval

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By Stan Welch – The Williamston Town Council gave first reading approval to the 2012-2013 budget Monday night and addressed several other issues as well. Among those issues was the clarification of some questions about the title and the potential environmental issues related to the Town’s purchase of a tract of land from Pacolet-Milliken.

Town Attorney Richard Thompson explained the various exceptions mentioned in the title to the property. They consisted of a variety of old rights of way, including those for rail lines that are no longer in place, roads that once existed, and a sewer right of way for the Town’s own lines.

Thompson also read a letter from Pacolet-Milliken claiming that to the best of their knowledge, no environmental issues exist on the site.

Following the presentation the Council voted 4-1 to amend the budget to transfer the funds to purchase the property. A similar amendment was unanimously approved to spend $52,000 for the Town’s ten per cent match for a Community Block Development Grant being used in the Town’s sewer upgrade project.

Former Mayor Phillip Clardy spoke during public comments and challenged the Mayor’s decision to call a special meeting last month to discuss the Pacolet-Milliken situation, claiming that the meeting didn’t meet the requirements for calling such a meeting. “The potential for the abuse of the ordinance governing such things concerns me,” said Clardy, who is running against Mayor Crout.

Clardy also stated his opinion that the Town’s purchasing policy wasn’t followed in buying playground equipment for the Gray Drive park. He said that Mayor Crout had promised to put the request on the agenda of a future meeting and had not done so. He also said that the Town failed to get written bids for the equipment, as is required for purchases between $3500 and $9999. Clardy also argued that all expenditures of hospitality tax funds requires approval of the full Council.

Crout did not respond, since the matters came up during public comment, but in remarks to The Journal following the meeting, he explained that the purchasing policy allows for informal written bids to be obtained for purchases in that price range.

“Direct solicitation of bids is also allowed, which means we can call vendors ourselves. We got the bids required, and followed the policy in doing so,” he said.

Crout also explained that the prohibition on spending hospitality tax funds was a one year restriction, put in place to give the Town time to see exactly what kind of revenues the hospitality tax would generate. “We didn’t want to go out and spend money and then find out the tax didn’t make as much as we thought it would. After that first year, the purchasing policy kicked in and has been followed ever since.

Scott Slatton, a representative for the Municipal Association of South Carolina offered some hopeful news. The chance of a larger return of monies to the aid for local subdivision is at least still alive, after the state Senate returned the budget to the House with a proposal to restore as much as $40 million to the local aid fund.

Currently the House is presenting a budget that would return 71% of the amount that local governments used to get back, while the Senate version would restore 88%.

Councilman Mack Durham asked during the budget discussion that if the local aid was increased, that a local grant vehicle be made available for businesses in the town to use to improve the facades of their businesses. Councilman Mike Looper presented a request on behalf of the fire department concerning replacing a 22 year old fire truck.

Mayor Crout acknowledged both requests and said they would best be handled through a budget amendment, in the case of the grant program, and a capital expenditure in the case of the fire truck. Both matters were under consideration, he said.

The Council also declared the Saturday of the Spring Water Festival as Kenneth Bearden Day, in recognition of his public service to the Town.