Mayor promises to find budget cuts to preserve police department

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By Stan Welch

At a budget workshop held by the West Pelzer Town Council Saturday, Mayor Peggy Paxton swore that if the Council would defer the reduction of the town police department until the end of the budget year, she would find a way to cut $40,000 to $50,000 from the next year’s budget.

Such a reduction would provide the cushion needed to repay the town’s second tax anticipation note (TAN) which would be due in April of 2017.

The promise came during a lengthy budget workshop, during which members of the public proposed fund raisers to be held to defray the expenses incurred by a full time police department. That full time law enforcement coverage has placed a strain on the town’s finances, and has been a point of contention for the last couple of years.

One of the proposals made by the Mayor involved relocating the police department to a part of the town hall, and dissolving the lease on the current location.

That, along with other cuts associated with the relocation, would save more than ten thousand dollars a year, according to the Mayor. She said she would surrender her personal office for the Chief’s use, and minor alterations would be made to the current storage room, insure the security of evidence and seized property.

Doug Burns, a representative of the Appalachian Council of Government, ACOG, reluctantly put a damper on the Mayor’s proposal to consider increasing business fees as well. He pointed out that there is a significant legislative lean towards abolishing business licenses at the state level, adding that counting on such revenues even in the near future would be uncertain at best.

Both Paxton, Burns, and Councilman Blake Sanders raised that same concern about any funds raised, or promised, by residents as the result of fund raising efforts. “It’s not the responsibility of fundraising to generate the monies used to run the town, and it’scertainly not a reliable source to formulate plans on,” said Sanders. Nevertheless, notice of such efforts appeared on social media sites Monday night, following the Council meeting.

Paxton also announced that County Administrator Rusty Burns had withdrawn from his contract with the Town, as a grant writer.

Paxton, who became quite emotional while sharing the news, thanked Burns for his selfless service, adding that she felt sure he would continue to be available for advice. “Over the years I have been mayor, Rusty has helped us get hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and loans. He has been invaluable to our town, and I am sorry to see him go.”

The contract paid two hundred dollars a month.

Doug Burns pointed out that the most recent audit of the town’s finances indicated a reserve fund of just under $140,000. The lack of meaningful reserves, in the event of emergency, is the driving force behind the opposition to using a TAN. Burns said the Town should immediately determine what part of that reserve fund is liquid, or readily available for use.

Monday night, at the Council meeting, Paxton repeated her pledge, saying that she would find a way to cut “at least forty thousand dollars “ from next year’s budget, hopefully negating the need for any further use of the TAN in order to manage the town’s tax flow problems. Council subsequently gave first reading approval to the issuance of a second TAN for budget year 2015-2016.

“I just want peace and harmony, so the Council isn’t always having to fight over this” she said.

Councilman Jimmy Jeanes, who proposed the amendment to the current budget that would have cut one police officer, as well as a part time water and sewer department employee, in order to fund the repayment of last year’s TAN, moved to table the second reading of that amendment.

That motion, unanimously approved by Council, essentially preserves the four man police department for the remainder of the budget year and, gives the mayor some time to pursue her budget cuts; while maintaining the parliamentary option to return quickly to the amendment if necessary.

In other business, the Council heard a report from Jim Riddle about his efforts to organize the May event at Chapman Park that the Council previously approved. He told Council that he had booked the Slik Nickle Band, a local blue grass band. He added that advertising in the form of fliers, posters and a newspaper ad, as well as the rental of a handicap accessible porta john, would all be possible within the thousand dollar budget approved by Council. The funds will come from the town’s hospitality tax revenues.

The issue of the town’s burning ordinance arose during the citizens’ agenda portion of the meeting. Council suggested several changes to the current ordinance that would allow for more burning days this spring. A special called meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on March 16 to give first reading approval to the proposed amendments.