By Stan Welch
Tuesday night, Anderson County Councilman Francis Crowder, feeling somewhat liberated by his decision not to seek reelection this year, offered his thoughts on the strategic vision the county should be following.
Crowder, finishing up his second term, began his presentation by citing the House of Representatives’ recent passage of yet another budget that cuts the aid to subdivisions, or the percentage of tax revenues returned by the state to the various counties. “It appears that the State legislature is shorting the counties by about seventy million more than the deal they had made,” said Crowder.
Crowder pointed out that in addition to the shortages, the counties still face a number for mandatory expenses, such as funding the solicitor’s office, DSS, and other various agencies. “We also face inevitable costs increases on things like employee insurance and retirement.”
Crowder’s point was that if the county ever hopes to increase its expenditures on such needs as infrastructure and paving, they will have to find the money themselves. “In my opinion, the General Assembly will never step up and increase gasoline taxes in order to improve the roads. So if we want to do so here in Anderson County, we will have to raise the money ourselves.”
“And since I am no longer running, I can say this. I would propose a county road tax, to be totally dedicated to paving. It wouldn’t be used to hire new people or buy equipment, but would be one hundred per cent for actual paving.”
Crowder said that transportation director and assistant county administrator Holt Hopkins estimates that the county could spend a hundred and fifty million dollars over the next twenty years and not keep up with paving and infrastructure needs.
Other aspects of Crowder’s proposed global strategic plan include a review of county properties, such as buildings, with an eye towards divesting the county of any that are not useful, or which present a liability. He also recommends shifting the county’s finances to a zero budget approach. The zero budget method begins each annual budget at zero and funds upward from there, instead of building from existing spending levels.
“I think we could easily reduce or eliminate a significant number of programs and departments. I think this is perhaps the single greatest way to reduce our spending,” said Crowder.
Crowder, a staunch supporter of economic development, also stressed the need for Anderson County to fund and build a “spec” building to attract industrial clients. “We have recently signed a letter of intent with a new company which takes our last viable commercial property off the table. We have no inventory left. While that speaks to the great success our economic development folks have had in recent years, we now find ourselves in an unenviable position.”
Following Crowder’s presentation, economic development director Burriss Nelson informed Council tat the company referred to plans to create 215 new jobs in the county.
Council also gave first reading approval to several related ordinances and resolutions designed to refinance the various bonded indebtedness the county has incurred over the last decade or so. According to Finance Director Rita Davis, the cumulative savings would be approximately $380,000.