Chickens allowed, smoking not – In West Pelzer

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By Stan Welch

The first ten minutes of the West Pelzer Town Council meeting went smoothly Monday night, as second and final reading approval was quickly given to two ordinances. One allows for the ownership of domesticated chickens in the town limits, while the other one prohibits all smoking in workplaces within the town limits.

Following the adoption of the two ordinances, the Council addressed the budget for the coming fiscal year. Things began breaking down pretty quickly after that, with the meeting adjourning about 45 minutes later, without even a motion being made to consider one of several possible budget options.

The first option would essentially leave the budget configured as it is currently. That would include continuing to charge residents nothing for the first one thousand gallons of water used each month, raise no fees and maintain employee salaries where they are. That proposal would also continue to fund town clerk Paula Payton’s salary entirely from the general fund budget. The resulting budget, as presented, would be balanced, by the skin of its teeth.

A second proposal would increase water and sewer fees by three per cent, while also keeping salaries steady. Payton’s salary would continue to come out of the general fund. This proposal would leave the water and sewer department with a surplus of $1200, a miniscule start on building a reserve fund in order to deal with any repair expenses in the future.

A third proposal would discontinue the traditional policy of not charging for the first thousand gallons used by each customer, increase the fees by three percent, and split the cost of Payton’s salary between the general fund and the water and sewer budget. That proposal would leave the water and sewer fund with a $6000 surplus, and the general fund with a $15,000 surplus.

The issue of a proposed tax anticipation note was also raised, although it is still under study at the time. Councilman Jimmy Jeanes raised concerns about how the Town would repay the note, which is a note sold to banks in order to raise operating capital during slow tax revenue periods. Mayor Peggy Paxton and Councilman Blake Sanders conceded that the TAN method might have to be used for two or more years in a row, while reserves are built to provide the Town with a financial cushion in case of emergency.

Jeanes, and Councilman Johnny Rogers, who both came on the Council in January, expressed their desire to see some spending cuts in order to provide for the funds needed to pay legal costs and interest associated with the TAN. That led to an increasingly contentious exchange between Mayor Paxton and the two Councilmen.

Jeanes conceded early in the discussion that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of waste to cut from the budget. As the discussion grew increasingly heated, with Paxton repeatedly challenging Jeanes to give her a number that would result in Jeanes voting for one of the proposed budgets, Jeanes and Rogers became recalcitrant.

“Well, tell me, Jimmy. What is the number that would get a budget passed tonight, that would give us a starting point to go from”, asked the Mayor. “Would five thousand be enough? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? What is the number?”After three or four times, Jeanes told her that he thought somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 would have to be cut from the total budget in order to satisfy him.

The one thing that Paxton, Jeanes, and Rogers had in common was their determination not to mention a possible tax increase. Councilman Sanders sidled up to the subject by asking if anyone knew the last time taxes in the town, which has the lowest municipal rate in the county, had been increased. No one could recall the last tax increase, but Paxton said she had been on Council or serving as mayor for twelve years, and there had been no increase. She said the Town actually reduced taxes when the county did the last reassessment.

In the end, Council adjourned without a vote, and with a plan to have another budget workshop before their next meeting. The Town is required to pass a budget by June 30, a date that seems unlikely, if not impossible. But as town attorney Carey Murphy told The Journal after the meeting, the town has missed that deadline before, and simply kept functioning.