Pelzer budget hearing turns into complaint session

By Stan Welch
What was billed as a public hearing on the Pelzer town budget turned into an almost hour long town meeting, with endless questions, angry complaints, shouting and a touch of profanity thrown in.
Approximately thirty citizens attended with six or seven carrying the verbal load, while the rest listened. The questions frequently strayed from the topic at hand, but little if any effort was made to stay on track. Complaints ranged from perceived shortcomings in the town’s webpage, proposed raises and salaries, the qualifications of various employees, and the town’s operations of the water and sewer systems.
The condition of those systems, how they are maintained and repaired, and the rising costs to customers took up almost thirty minutes of the discussion. Mayor pro tem Mike Matthews explained that Williamston provides some assistance with emergency repairs, and that town maintenance employee Mark Vickery returns the favor when Williamston has a problem. The town withdrew from a contracted arrangement with West Pelzer several months ago, a move that left the town with just one piece of equipment; a backhoe that is currently undergoing repairs. Matthews said the previous council sold the rest of the town’s equipment
Town attorney Jimmy King tried to explain to the crowd that the increased water bills were mandated by the RDA, which funded the upgrade of the water lines and set the rates at such a level as to insure that the town would be able to meet their obligation to repay the loan. He also mentioned that the sale of the sewer system to ReWa seemed unlikely, and advised against selling the water system by itself.
Another vociferous complaint was the perceived lack of transparency about the budget process. One resident, who ran unsuccessfully for town council at the last election, repeatedly demanded to know how much money the town had on hand. Others complained that the council had run, at least in part, on a promise to be more transparent, and complained again about the lack of information available on the town website.
As the demand for current fiscal details grew, Mayor pro tem Matthews stated that a monthly accounting of what money comes in and what money goes out will be made available at the monthly council meeting. He also announced that a budget workshop will be held next Thursday, June 20, at 6 p.m. The public is invited to attend.
Eventually, a motion was made to accept the budget at first reading. For several minutes, no one seconded the motion and it appeared that the budget would fail. Then attorney King reminded the Council that the law requires that they pass a budget, and that first reading approval is essential to second reading approval. A reluctant second was made and the budget received first reading approval.
The council then addressed the issue of lawn maintenance. The budget already contained a proposal for a part time employee, but Mayor pro tem Matthews also proposed a six month contract to be implemented during the grass growing season. “That way we will have a choice of ways to go.” The council also reviewed two bids for some tree work to be done in the monkey park. Three bids were originally received but one bidder couldn’t provide proof of insurance and was disqualified. The other two bids were vastly different, with one being  almost seven thousand dollars lower.
A motion was made to accept that bid, but failed when the vote was a 2-2 tie. Mayor Roger Scott was absent again, due to his medical condition. He has not attended a council meeting yet this year.