By David Meade
The Town of Williamston began work on their 2019-2020 budget during a work session held Friday at the Williamston Municipal Center. Department heads met Mayor Mack Durham and all four councilmembers to discuss the mayor’s proposed budget and one time items each would like to have included in the new budget. Each department head talked about their respective departments and presented information about their one time request.
Mayor Durham said there are not a lot of changes in the $3.2 million General Fund budget from the previous year, other than some one time money for requests from each department.
He said that the Armory (former Artory) lease to a fitness business is bringing in revenue of approximately $30,000.”
“It has been a nice resolution to an empty building not being used,” the mayor said. “I hope to see more projects like that.”
One time department requests include $65,000 for police vehicles, $120,000 for Economic Development, $3000 for Admin Computer needs, $10,000 for street signs, $97,000 for a Bobcat for the Sewer Department, $11,800 for mowers for Parks and Recreation Department. Other Admin requests include $2,500 for security cameras and $1500 for equipment for Council Chambers. Total one time funding requests amounted to $310,800.
Police Captain Kevin Marsee talked about the need to increase officer pay and maintenance costs on the town’s fleet of police vehicles.
Marsee said the department has certain certifications for officers with four years of law enforcement experience and two years with the town, to be at the rank of Corporal. The department currently has one and three others that will meet the qualification this year, he said. This will result in a 17.84 percent increase in their budget due to the increase in salary and benefits for those employees, he said. He said they are trying to offer a competitive wage compared to other nearby agencies.
There was also discussion about the department’s vehicles and maintenance, supplies, uniforms. Marsee said average maintenance costs on each of the 20 vehicles is about $1000 each. Marsee said the department is cutting fuel expenses so the savings can go to salaries. The department is requesting one time funding of $65,000 for two new police vehicles.
Envision Williamston Executive Director Sonya Crandall requested additional funding for a grant project as part of a larger Economic Development package. Crandall said the organization would like to provide a business assistance program similar to the facade grant program. The assistance program would provide funds for building improvements such as structural issues, water seepage and other repairs. Other towns, including Seneca and Anderson, have a similar program in place, she said.
Mayor Durham said the $120,000 Economic Development request is based on a recommendation of the Envision Williamston Economic Development Committee, however the total request is not solely for Envision Williamston. He said the request will also be part of a town ordinance discussion. “It is in the ballpark of what will be needed.”
Mayor Durham said the one time funding will come out of General Fund Reserves. He said he is committed to economic development in the long term and growing the town. More details on the project will be proposed to council soon he said.
Utilities Director David Rogers said there was no pay increase for the Street Department included in their budget request and said that it has been five years since that department saw an increase. Rogers said the Sewer Department is short one position, which is approximately $38,000. “We are trying not to hire,” he said. “We will try to get by.”
“The (sewer) plant is ten years old and has some major mechanical fails,” Rogers said. He said that plant operation is exponentially more difficult.
The town is under a DHEC consent order due to inflow and infiltration and the inflow which is not getting enough UV contact during treatment.
Mayor Durham said, inflow and infiltration “is the root of our sewer plant issue. We are trying to correct that.”
The town still has twenty years to pay on a thirty year loan for construction of the plant which is just ten years old.
The town is limited to one million gallons per day, which is about where it is at. The county has approximately 300,000 gallons of capacity available at the plant which is currently not being used, he said. The capacity is available as part of the agreement with the county to provide funding toward the cost of the facility upgrade at the time.
Rogers said the Water Department has two employees and the Sewer Department has four.
He said the town has seen some growth. “There have been more houses built in the last ten months than in a long time,” Rogers said. Rogers had one time funding requests for three departments.
Rogers said the Street Department has been in the process of replacing street signs and that 20 have been replaced recently. The Street Department is requesting $10,000 for additional street sign replacement.
The Sewer Department is requesting $97,000 for a Bobcat, trailer and some attachments including a brush cutter and broom. He said that equipment is not department specific and can be used by all departments. Mayor Durham said the Bobcat is a multi-use base piece of equipment with a couple of attachments and that additional attachments can be added on.
The Parks and Recreation Department is requesting a zero turn mower at a cost of $11,800.
Williamston Fire Chief Steve Ellison was obviously irritated that he had not been told that there was an opportunity for a one time funding request. Ellison said that his “all volunteer department” had kept their budget to a minimum and that they are holding a golf tournament fundraiser soon to help increase the small amount paid for each call a firefighter responds to. He said the department is in need of updated air breathing apparatus equipment.
Ellison said the Fire Department has 29 volunteers, of which sixteen are paid somewhere else. He said they are currently one firefighter short.
Chief Ellison said all of the airpacks they are using are out of date. The packs are $8000 new and $2000 used. He said they need at least ten new units, at a cost of $80,000.
“We do everything we can with what little we get and do,” Ellison said.
At a minimum, the department needs at least $7500 for five more used airpacks, Ellison said.
He also said that the town, and other fire departments in the county, will have to consider a paid position in the future. “We have got to try to hire at least one during the day time,” he said.
Mayor Durham said that Chief Ellison could submit a request for one time funding for the Fire Department which will be considered in the budget.
In a follow up to the meeting, Mayor Durham said, “Special consideration should be given to some of the requests we heard. Our Fire Department is in particular need and they give a great service to our community. This does not diminish the fine job the rest of our administrative team does for our community, but our Fire Department has done more for our community with far less and I intend to give them my full support as I have done in the past with equipment requests.”
He also said the town needs to have a serious discussion on finding a way to staff at least one position in the Fire Department. “Our guys do a great job, but during the day time hours it would raise our preparedness to staff an officer at the Fire Department. This is a need that we have been considering for the past couple of years and this year we need to take action.”
There is expected to be additional discussion on the budget prior to the first reading in May.