It’s a Local Election Year!

Mark your calendars, Simpsonville! November 7th: we have a city council election!  Make sure you’re registered to vote, and your registration is up to date.  You can go here to register and here to check your registration details. If you need to update your registration, this is the place.

Only one incumbent is running: Mr. Taylor Graham (Ward 2).  He is being challenged by Ms. Stephanie Kelley and Mr. Aaron Rupe.  Ms. Braswell is not running for another term.  Her seat (Ward 4) is up for grabs, and there are two contenders: Ms. Sherry Roche and Mr. T. Blake Whitaker.  Ms. Lockaby (Ward 6) has also decided not to run for re-election.  Vying for her seat are Mr. Lou Hutchings and Mr. Jason Wilmoth.

As a reminder, all councilmembers are elected at large, which means you will vote for one candidate for each of the 3 open seats.

Simpsonville has been through a lot of change in the last few years, and we’re making a lot of progress.  Help us stay on the right track by getting to know the candidates and choosing those who will keep us moving forward!

national-usa-election-day

Happy Independence Day!

FB_IMG_1499460460613241 years ago today, the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, proposing a new government that derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” As we celebrate today, let us also reflect on the great privilege these words have afforded us: freedom from government without representation. And let us remember these words this November when we once again have the opportunity to go to the ballot box and choose representatives from Wards 2, 4, & 6. Happy Independence Day, Simpsonville! Have fun and be safe however you’re celebrating today.

Taxes are going up…everywhere

As the Greenville News reports, Greenville County Schools trustees unanimously approved a 4.6 mill tax increase Tuesday night. While we were trying to come to an agreement last night on our own budget, Greenville County Schools trustees unanimously approved a 4.6 mill tax increase. The County also raised fees this year, and the State raised the gas tax. This is one of the reasons I personally did not want to raise taxes this year. Nevertheless, our Simpsonville city residents will see an additional $10 added to their tax bills in the form of a PW fee.

But residents aren’t the only ones who will be paying more.  For the first time, each business and each mobile home resident will, in effect, be contributing to the Public Works fee.

A Public Works Fee of $34.00 will be collected times the number of separate businesses located on each taxable parcel of improved real property located within the core central business district  as that district is identified on a map maintained in the Office of the City Planning Director that currently use a single roll-a-waste container for solid waste collection.  If there are, for example, 5 businesses operating from 1 taxable parcel, the owner of the taxable parcel would be billed, on the annual tax bill, the sum of 5 X $34 = $170.  Presumably, real property owners who house businesses in the Core Central Business District will pass the cost down to their tenants.

Please note: the city will continue service to those who will not be considered part of the “Core Central Business District” until JULY 28th to allow more adequate time for those businesses to make arrangements for permanent collection.

The same logic will be applied to the 3 mobile home parks in Simpsonville: the park owners will be charged $34.00 times the number of separate lots located on each taxable parcel (i.e. each park).  Presumably, park owners will pass this cost down to residents.

What does this get you?  Perhaps the biggest change residents will notice is the return of the much-desired brush service.  We’ve been hearing for almost a year from residents who have described the burden bundling has placed upon them. Recently, I polled 100 residents in the Simpsonville City limits, and the primary concern was clear: the return of brush service.  We have planned a fiscally sustainable option for returning that service. Read more about that here.  This does not change our overall contract with ACE.  We will simply be adding a service to supplement what ACE does for us.  You get two new city personnel and two new city brush trucks to provide that supplemental service.

So your extra $10 a year helps ensure you no longer have the burden of bundling.

Read more about what you get in the budget here.  Read all previous budget posts here.

Budget Update: Passed

Tonight, Council adopted on second reading the FY 17/18 Budget.

The budget approved on first reading was amended as follows:

  1. To retain trash collection of one roll cart per business in the core central downtown business district only.  This is the area from where Garrison Rd. meets Main to Chancellor’s Park Ct. It includes only those businesses that are front-facing on Main, N. Main, S. Main, NE Main, or SE Main.  All other businesses previously receiving city trash pickup will be required to contract for private services. However, please note that the city will continue pickup for those other businesses until JULY 28th to allow more adequate time for them to make arrangements. 

Here’s my why: The businesses located in the core of the central business district have unique characteristics. This district is characterized by buildings that are located at the front of the property boundary so that only a sidewalk separates the building from the street. They are serviced in the rear by an alley that provides little or no parking because the buildings take up most of the lot. The City has encouraged the maintenance of some of these buildings in their current character and design by an overlay district. Therefore, there is no room for dumpsters that would be required for commercial solid waste pickup. Traffic would be increased in already cramped places where there is already a lot of pedestrian traffic if multiple trash services were collecting solid waste. Therefore, roll a waste container collection should continue to be provided by the city.

2. Retain trash collection services to mobile home parks and duplexes: one roll cart per unit. The only real why here is that these people have always received the service, and many are on limited incomes, and the park owners do not want to contract for services for their residents.

Here are the changes that we made to get there:

  • Charge the Mobile Park Home Owners for the PW fee ($34.00) for each unit within their park.
  • Charge the Duplex Owners for the PW fee ($34.00) for each unit within their parcel.
  • Charge per business the $34.00 PW fee.
  • Decrease Administrative Contingency fund by $30,000.
  • Decrease contribution to General Fund (reserve) by $22,168.

This budget represents one heck of a series of compromises. And I have my reservations about it.  In particular, I am very concerned about the long-term fiscal sustainability of these services.  These changes make this work this year–but next year these same funds aren’t guaranteed.  In my opinion, that’s no way to plan for the future.

But I’ve been calling for better long-term planning, for thinking beyond the current budget cycle, since I got elected.  And we’re not there. Still. I hope we will be by the first Saturday of January 2018 (more on that later).  In the meantime, look for upcoming opportunities to share what’s important to you with councilmembers and the City Administrator.  Because you should help lead the way for this long-term, strategic planning we need to get started.

In the meantime, the budget is DONE.

Read previous posts about the budget here.

Q&A: HP’s + $80k

Another thing recent survey comments has brought to light: there’s some misinformation out there regarding the Heritage Park Amphitheater budget. And I can see how residents might be upset and/or confused regarding this part of the budget.

Take, for example, this comment:

“A large chunk of money has been moved to the Heritage Park account. Until that is explained, I don’t support any increase.”

So I’d like to clear that up: the money for the HP Amphitheatre comes from hospitality/ accommodations tax, which is collected and held in our Special Revenue Fund. City staff indicates an increase in revenue of approx. $99,000 this year. That money must by law be spent on tourism-related expenses. The additional $80,000 in this year’s budget is for the 4th of July event and other qualifying events the city will plan over the course of the year.

One resident offered this advice on the budget:

“Take the money from the 80k in the proposed budget from entertainment…”

That would be great, but let’s be clear: No money from the General Fund goes to any of the HP Amphitheater expenses. None. It all comes from the Special Revenue Fund, and the use of that money is dictated by State law. No money from the Special Revenue Fund can be used on city services like sanitation. So we can’t move that $80k to pay for trash/leaves/brush.

You can read the city’s ordinance regarding hospitality tax here. State law is here.

Returning a Service in a Sustainable Way

In reading some of the comments on the survey, I’ve realized I should clarify our plan for brush collection. The proposed budget provides for the purchase (through a bond) of two new brush collection trucks and provides funds for two new personnel to go along with them. This means that the city will be providing the service—as it did before.

One person asked why we don’t get one brush truck and one leaf truck and alternate them each week, so we can provide both services. And that’s a valid question—one I asked myself. So here’s the thing: we’re planning long-term, not short-term—something the city has absolutely must improve on. We ended up in the situation we were in last year because we pushed our equipment too far, expected too much out of what little we had, for far too long. Simpsonville has simply grown too much for one truck to serve us all. That’s why, you’ll recall, we often waited multiple weeks for pick up. The truck just couldn’t keep up with the volume. And the years of trying took its toll on the equipment. This go round, we’re planning smarter. If we want a sustainable brush service long term, we need two trucks, not one. And we need a plan for maintaining and replacing equipment, so we don’t just drive our equipment into the ground. If we’re going to do it, we need to do it right. Period. Otherwise, a few years down the road, we’ll be right back where we were.