TC passes first budget reading; authorizes property purchase

BLYTHEWOOD – After considerable sparring over some of the ways the Town spends its money, Town Council unanimously passed first reading of its FY 2022 – 2023 budget Monday night.

With one-time revenues from American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding ($1,812,854) and a $250,000 earmark grant from the state government plus an almost 100 percent increase in local option sales tax and a more than 100 percent increase in the state’s aid to subdivisions, the FY 2023 budget stands at $4,604,896 – almost double the FY 2022 budget of $2,415,071.

The local option sales tax and aid to subdivisions are both based on the 2020 census which showed Blythewood’s population more than doubled.

Purchase of Property

During a special called budget workshop last week, council tabled plans to purchase land on the outskirts of Doko Park, then, in a surprise move following executive session Monday night, voted 4-1 to authorize Town Administrator Carroll Williamson to complete the necessary processes to purchase property not to exceed the amount discussed in executive session.

No further information was conveyed about the purchase. “Land purchase around the park,” was a listing priority on the capital (ARP) projects list made available to The Voice by Williamson prior to the May 12 council meeting.

Increased Manor Expenses

A new wrinkle in the FY 2023 budget is that the Manor has been brought into the general fund since, according to Williamson, it has not been able to operate without significant transfers of funds to cover its expenditures in the past.

The FY 2023 facility rental revenue reflects a more conservative estimate for next year, Williamson said. There is also a considerable outlay of funds for the Manor in the FY 2023 budget – the purchase of Chiavari chairs (for rental), new flooring, professional development for its new director and another employee, new furniture in the foyer, additional advertising for bridal shows, and a printer company contract.

Legal & Professional

The budget for outside attorneys, to include the town attorney, has more than tripled from $60,000 last year to $200,000 in the FY 2023 budget in anticipation of litigation costs associated with the MPA lawsuits. 

Planning and development services includes increased costs for design services for park additions (farmers market, field, combat veterans memorial, picnic shelter) plus hiring a consultant to update the zoning ordinance following the adoption of the comprehensive plan earlier this year.

Other Increases

The biggest change to the governing body budget is the addition of more funds for travel and training for council members. In addition to the Municipal Association of South Carolina annual meeting and training, council members will also be able to attend an additional annual convention at the National League of Cities.

Administration salary expense increases include a lobbyist and both a proposed 5.9 percent cost of living increase and an 18 percent increase in health insurance for all employees.

American Rescue Plan (ARP) Grant

During the budget work session last week, council discussed how they might divvy up the $1,812,854 left from the $2,066,052 total ARP funds that were awarded to the Town last fall. The entire amount was transferred into the general fund to pay for general government services, in accordance with ARP Final Rule for Standard Allowance.

The largest amount allocated was a matching fund up to $700,000 to encourage donations to cover the cost of building a farmers market facility in Doko park. 

According to Paul Moscoti, chairman of the Park Foundation, there are two prospective doners interested in helping to fund a market building.

“I’ve never felt so confident as I do now that this building is going to be built,” Moscati said.

$53K for Town Employees

Mayor Bryan Franklin suggested a payout of $53,000 in COVID bonus money for employees. Council voted to give the nine full time members of the town hall staff, who received full pay while working from home for a year and a half, $1,000 each. The 19 part-time Manor employees who were laid off during COVID will be made whole for the work they missed, plus each of them will also receive a $1,000 bonus.

Small Business Incentives Tabled

It was suggested during last week’s workshop that the town’s small businesses, most of whom stayed open and retained their employees through COVID, with many struggling to survive, should also receive some kind of financial incentive. But council tabled that suggestion.

Council members also tabled funds to make sport field improvements, to purchase land on the outskirts of Doko Park, a maintenance building for the park grounds, a splash pad in the park, interstate welcome signs, sidewalks down Blythewood Road and Fulmer Road, a digital sign at Blythewood Road and Wilson Blvd. (Main Street) and a Doko spirit sculpture in the park.

These tabled proposed projects exceed the $1,812,85 available (ARP) funds. If council includes all proposed projects in the final budget, the additional costs will be covered from the general fund, according to Williamson

Other ARP Allocations

A majority of council members have agreed on these other proposed one-time payouts from the ARP funds (that were moved into the general fund):

  • Bethel-Hanberry Gym restoration (if it is deeded to the Town) – $500,000
  • Manor – $250,000 (split: $75% for Manor CIP; 25% for park CIP}
  • Big Red Barn – $100,000
  • Christian Assistance Bridge (CAB) – $75,000
  • Security for Park – $50,000
  • I-77 Crosswalk fence – $45,000 (assuming town receives an 80% SCDOT grant)
  • Lobbyist for Town Hall – $45,000
  • Combat Veterans Memorial in Doko Park – $40,000
  • Macedonia Church Food Bank – $25,000
  • YMCA Membership Assistance – $20,000
  • Camp Discovery – $15,000 (CD also receives $15,000 annually from state accommodations tax revenue)
  • $20K to Ft. Jackson Park

Council voted 4-1 to contribute $20,000 to the creation of a Gateway to the Army project at Fort Jackson. A Blythewood resident, Marty Wells,  who is chairman of the Gateway to the Army committee, provided information about how much other Midlands towns and counties have contributed to the project: Town of Lexington $10,000; Town of Forest Acres, $50,000; Lexington County, $50,000; City of Columbia, $300,000 and Richland County, $300,000.

Councilman Donald Brock asked Williamson at last week’s workshop for a comparison of the percentage of these cities’ budgets to their donations before a final decision is made on how much Blythewood will contribute.

Hospitality Tax Allocations

A majority of council expressed a desire to go forward with current project allocations from the hospitality tax revenue fund ($172,880.00) that are already in place.

  • Range Fore Hope Golf Tournament – $12,740
  • Range Fore Hope King for a Day – $12,740
  • RibFest – $12,000
  • Holiday Market – $5,500
  • BHS Tournament of Bands, – $10,000
  • WHS Tournament of Bands – $12,000
  • Oktoberfest – $16,000
  • Soda City Girls Softball – $4,400
  • WHS Redhawk Pre Season Invitational – $7,500
  • BHS Bengals Youth Football – $11,500
  • Most Outreach Scholarship Gala – $10,000
  • USC Equestrian SEC Championship – $20,000
  • Christkindle Market – $16,000
  • Run with Rotary – $5,000
  • Juneteenth – $25,000

Council is allocating an additional $33,000 of hospitality revenue for the following town events:

  • Christmas Tree Lighting – $1,500
  • July 4t Fireworks – $19,000
  • Big Grab – $5,000
  • Christmas Parade $7,500

Another $11,900 of hospitality tax revenue goes to:       

Blythewood Historical Society for Black History ($5,000), Women’s History ($1,700), Veterans Day program ($3,000), after-Christmas Parade reception ($900), and a Children’s Program ($1,300.)

Council is allocating a one-time amount of $7,000 of the hospitality funds to the Farmers Market for the matching fund to draw donations to build a facility in the park.

Local Accommodations Tax Allocations

A consensus of council is to divide $122,000 of the local accommodations tax funds between four Richland Two sports projects ($47,000), the rodeo ($50,000) and the WSCGA golf tournament ($25,000) as listed:

  • SC Diamond Invitational – $20,000
  • WHS Queens of the Castle basketball tournament – $18,000
  • Lady Bengals Golf – $4,500
  • Boys Bengal Golf (Hutto Invitational)- $4,500
  • Doko Rodeo – $25,000
  • Pioneer Days rodeo – $25,000
  • WSCGA Golf Tournament – $25,000

State Accommodation Tax Allocations

Council voted 3-2 to hire the Capital City Lake Murray Country to market the town using the 30 percent state accommodation tax funds. Baughman and Brock voted against.

The Town will pay the Lake Murray organization a total of $54,892 annually with $23,225 coming from the current FY 2022 state (30 percent) accommodations tax revenue and $31,667 coming from the FY 2023 state (30 percent) accommodations tax revenue. This is almost $17,000 more than the Town contracted to pay MPA Strategies last year to market the town before it terminated MPA’s contract. The Town is now involved in two lawsuits with MPA Strategies and its owner Ashley Hunter.

The Town is using the 65 percent state accommodations tax revenue toward:

  • A part-time employee for Blythewood Historical Society (BHS), $23,500
  • Maintenance and repair for the Langford Nord House (BHS), $10,000;
  • By Design (the company that designs, provides and stores the town’s Christmas decorations), $35,000;
  • Camp Discovery, $15,000 (in addition to a $15,000 contribution from the ARP funds)
  • Park/Playground, $76,286

Additional Outside Agency Fund Allocations

The Town has budgeted $23,500 from its general fund to meet funding requests from certain outside agencies. Those requesting funds include:

  • Transitions -$5,000
  • Chamber of Commerce – $5,000
  • Meals on Wheels – $6,500
  • B-HE Athletic Assoc. – $6,000
  • Blythewood Soccer Club – $1,000

Several other outside agencies that are funded annually by the Town, did not receive funds under this category this year because they received larger amounts under the ARP fund category.

Organizations Receiving Greatest Amount of Funding

These organizations receive the most annual funding from the Town.

  • Richland Two School District sports organizations – $92,400
  • Blythewood Chamber of Commerce – $56,500
  • Rodeo – $50,000

Second and final reading on the budget is scheduled for 6 p.m., June 27 at The Manor.

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