By Stan Welch
An otherwise mundane discussion of the proposed budget for West Pelzer took several interesting turns Monday night, after the question of whether or not the town would join with Williamston in participating in the Main Street program arose.
The program is designed to rejuvenate the downtown business areas of small towns and as a tool for development and attracting businesses and jobs. Various municipal officials from Williamston, West Pelzer and Pelzer, have been promoting the program as a possible joint effort involving all three towns.
But the linking of an offer from Williamston to sell water to West Pelzer and/or Pelzer at a cheaper rate than they pay now to the two towns’ decisions to participate in the program may backfire.
Town Councilman Blake Sanders, who is one of those who supports and has promoted the Main Street program, raised the question again Monday night, as part of the budget discussion. He asked how the town might fund their portion of the cost of the three year commitment.
Mayor Peggy Paxton quickly responded by distributing documents outlining the Williamston offer. That offer comes in three possible forms, each with a significantly different price tag. The first alternative would require the construction of approximately 3800 linear feet of 8 inch line to a connection point along Highway 8 in order to provide Pelzer with water. The proposed cost for that project is $273,500.
The second plan involves two possibilities, labeled 2 and 2A. They involve going to West Pelzer through an existing line to connect to the West Pelzer system at Smith Street and Pope Drive. From that point, new lines could be added to increase capacity to 8 inches, at a cost of $164,500. If however the new lines were not installed, and only upgrade work was done at the existing water pit, that cost would be approximately halved, to $80,000.
The third proposal involving West Pelzer is to extend an existing line along Depot Road to a point near the existing water pits being used by Pelzer and West Pelzer along Highway 20 to purchase water from Greenville Water system, their current provider. That price tag is $364,000.
Preliminary indications are that either the Anderson Regional Water Authority or Big Creek Water Authority might be interested in financing the project(s). Currently, the Town of Williamston pays for 1.2 million gallons of water a day; an amount that was established to accommodate the mills that once operated in the town. They currently use approximately half that amount.
The proposals, which were clearly identified as being presented for discussion only, commit the town of Williamston to sell either or both towns water at a rate of $1.52 per thousand gallons. West Pelzer currently purchases water from Greenville Water for $2.82 per thousand gallons.
Based on the 450 homes serviced by West Pelzer, the monthly savings would reach $3675 a month; that amount would climb to $44,101 per year. For Pelzer, which services 570 homes, mostly outside the town limits, the savings would be $4246 a month, or $50,950 a year.
The West Pelzer Town Council had no objections to the figures presented.
Mayor Paxton called the offer “awesome”, while Councilman Alexander pointed out that recent increase in the town’s sewer costs have put a strain on many people. “A dollar and thirty cents less per thousand would be a big help to folks.”
The snag came when Paxton explained that, in order to take advantage of the opportunity, the Town would have to pledge fifty per cent of the money saved to supporting the Main Street Program for the first five years of the recommended ten year contract.
Paxton expressed strong opposition to that requirement, pointing out that the Town’s citizens would see little or no reduction in their water costs, because half the savings would be committed to the program.
Paxton also stated that Williamston has no right to tell West Pelzer what to do.
“We are two separate towns and these are two separate issues. The water issue should not be tied to the Main Street program. I would certainly give serious consideration to the proposed purchase of water from Williamston, but not under these conditions.”
Sanders tried to separate the two matters, asking Paxton if there was no link between the two, would she support the Main Street Program.
“Personally, no I wouldn’t,” Paxton said. “ I just don’t see what it will do for us. We have a very small downtown business section, with just a handful of businesses.”
Sanders, for his part, conceded that he is and has been a supporter of the program. “I bought into this a long time ago,” said Sanders, whose work as a landscape designer has brought him into contact with such programs and projects frequently. “Leaders invest in their communities when they share the vision.”
Sanders likened the opportunity to a play that occurred in last year’s bowl game between Clemson and LSU. Faced with a fourth down and seventeen yards to go, Clemson coach Swinney called for a pass play that succeeded and allowed Clemson to go on to victory. “He trusted his players and was enough of a leader to take the chance to win.”
“I’m a quarterback,” said Sanders. “I’m not a punter. If the town decides not to do this, I will work to make sure our voice is heard.” Sanders is the current president of the Piedmont Area Economic Development organization.
He acknowledged Paxton’s point that West Pelzer is largely residential.
“Pelzer has the riverfront and the opportunity to develop trails and greenspaces and other things,” Sanders said. “Williamston has the largest business district and can work to attract shoppers. West Pelzer can be the place where people come to buy and build homes. I can’t predict the future, and we have to build the vision to see what it really is, but I think this is an opportunity we have to take.”
He admitted however that despite his efforts to separate the issues, the proposal clearly required that the savings be redirected, at least in part, to funding the Main Street program.
Paxton said that agreeing amounted to “bartering water for a program we will have no control over.” She added, “We are not one community. We are all different towns and communities. I have thirteen brothers and sisters. We all came from the same place, but we are all different.”