West Pelzer council moves forward on budget

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After 4 hour meeting

By Stan Welch

Following a long and sometimes acrimonious special called meeting, West Pelzer has a preliminary budget at least.

After almost four hours of debate, discussion, and outright disputation, which saw one Councilman walk out of the meeting, the members of the West Pelzer Town Council who stuck it out voted 3-0 to give first reading approval to a budget that included a number of cuts, and raised the millage by three mills. Based on the valuation of the property within the town, a mill generates approximately $1600 in revenue per year.

The meeting began with the Council hearing once again from Pope Zeigler, Inc. lawyer and representative Margaret McGee, who explained the benefits of issuing a tax anticipation note (TAN); a device used to manage a governmental body’s cash flow during the course of a year.

The town, in this instance, would issue the TAN, borrowing a percentage of its anticipated tax revenue to help it through the customary revenue drought that comes during the middle to latter part of the budget year. McGee, as she had before, also cautioned the Council that the seriously outdated tax structure of the town would have to be addressed if the town wants to avoid making the TAN a regular part of its financial strategy. That is a choice that neither McGee nor any Council member considers wise.

Council voted unanimously (Councilman Robert Alexander was once again absent) to approve the TAN ordinance, which will require another approval before taking effect. Council then moved to the budget. The same issue, the lack of a meaningful cash reserve in the town’s general fund, that had influenced the decision on the TAN also cast a shadow over the budget.

While everyone agreed that a millage increase is long overdue, almost everyone had a different approach. Councilman Jimmy Jeanes, for example, proposed cutting one police officer from the force, decreasing the hours worked by the court clerk, and cutting a part time position in the water and sewer department.

Those suggestions led to an emotional confrontation between Jeanes and Mayor Peggy Paxton; and eventually resulted in Jeanes walking out, leaving the meeting barely in session, with a minimal quorum of three members.

Councilman Blake Sanders asked the Council to commit to working for free for three years, a tactic that would save $4800 a year. Paxton declined, saying that the members don’t get paid enough as it is for what they do. Councilman Johnnie Rogers voted with the mayor on the issue of pay.

Additional cuts were made to the police department budget, with subscriptions and dues being cut, as well as uniform expenses and office supplies. The salary of town clerk Paula Payton will be paid entirely from the general fund budget, as opposed to some of the budget proposals which would have split her salary between the general fund and the water and sewer fund.

The final budget approved at first reading also includes a three per cent increase in water and sewer rates, which will add just under five dollars a month to the average residential customer, and just a bit over five dollars to the average business customer. It will increase the annual revenues to the water and sewer department by approximately $23,000 a year, which will allow the department to absorb anticipated increases in the price ReWa charges, and to begin building a reserve fund.

Second and final reading of the budget will be necessary before it is in force.