Council drops request for 30% salary increase

Council members Erica Page, Donald Brock, Sloan Griffin (Mayor), Andrea Fripp, and Rich McKenrick | Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – After 2 1/2 hours of council debate and public comments, the Blythewood Town Council passed first reading of its 2024-2025 annual budget Monday night.

The vote passed 4-1 with Councilman Rich McKenrick opposing.

No longer in the budget are 30% cost of living increases for council. However, the $500 gym membership for employees is still in the budget under ‘miscellaneous’. Both items had been included in early budget drafts, prompting at least one resident to speak out.

“I’m very concerned about this. I can never remember, ever getting a 30% increase in pay,” town resident Bobbi Young said. “How can you – I can’t even find the word – why do people think they deserve a 30% increase when nobody else gets that much money?

Mayor Sloan Griffin said raises and gym memberships are no longer in the budget, offering a lengthy explanation for their deletion. Essentially, he said the raises were based on raises prior administrations adopted, but are now being deferred until at least 2025.

“Our [raises] would start after the next election in 2025. So there’s no reason to put that item on the agenda,” Griffin said.

The budget presented Monday night totaled $7,326,885, which included $3,023,595 in the operating budget and $4,303,290 for capital improvements.

Those numbers changed slightly as council members inserted several amendments.

Chamber funding debate

Council members were clearly divided when it came to funding for the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce.

Initially, the chamber saw the town slash its annual sponsorship from $5,730 to $1,500. Council members eventually reversed course, settling on $4,650 after lobbying by chamber board member Janet Moak.

“The proposal of significantly reducing the town’s partnership level with the chamber is concerning,” Moak said.

“A chamber can be very, very vital to a community,” she added. “It’s even more important when you have a chamber and town council that work together harmoniously, especially in a place so small like Blythewood.”

McKenrick repeatedly pressed for fully restoring chamber funding. He complained the budget “changed significantly” from the version discussed in prior budget work sessions.

“We’ve made some changes here. We haven’t let people who are receiving funding to my knowledge know that we were discussing it or the caveat of moving funds,” McKenrick said. “This council wasn’t transparent as it should be.”

It was actually McKenrick’s budgetary approach that drew lack of transparency criticisms. Mayor Griffin reminded McKenrick the only substantive change involved chamber funding.

“Let’s make sure that you put that out correctly to the public,” Griffin said. “The only item in your opinion that’s significantly changed [deals with] outside fund requests.”

McKenrick also questioned Griffin about why he set a $50,000 cap on funding to outside agencies after the budget work sessions.

Griffin said a cap was discussed, but a specific number was never settled upon so he provided one to town staff.

“The recommendation is that we give a number. I gave the interim administrator a number as I was instructed to. That number was $50,000 to cap a total,” Griffin said.

“You were instructed to by who?” McKenrick responded.

“That was the recommendation, to give a number for capping the items. You can go back to YouTube if you have missed that,” Griffin answered.

“No I didn’t miss it,” McKenrick said.

Then Griffin turned to interim administrator Daniel Stines.

“Was I not instructed to give a number to cap the outside funding requests?”

“It was our understanding that the number would be devised by you,” Stines replied.

At that point, McKenrick made a veiled comment about Griffin’s decision making, prompting Griffin to issue McKenrick a warning.

Councilman Donald Brock said he introduced the line item slashing chamber funding.

Brock said the chamber’s two other “Industry Level” partners (besides the Town) – Lexington Medical Center and Prisma Health – operate under budgets dwarfing that of Blythewood town government.

Councilwoman Erica Page leaned toward giving the Chamber more than the $1,500. Council finally agreed to give the $1,500 suggested by Brock and add to it the $3,150 that is the difference between the $50,000 cap and $46,850 (the amount already allocated for the other outside funding requests) for a final allocation to the chamber of $4,650.

Before the chamber funding vote, a member of the nonprofit community voiced disillusionment over the funding debate.

“This is a lot of back and forth. It’s kind of gone off the rail for me,” said Alvin King, executive director of Range for Hope, which provides golf therapy to active service members, veterans, families and adaptive golfers. “I would rather not receive any money from the Town and I would pull all of our town partnerships away. It just doesn’t look like the valuation of what we do and what we bring to this town is there.”

Capital Improvement Projects

Council members also voted to reduce funding for the Bethel-Hanberry gym project from $500,000 to $1.

Brock said he has reservations about a proposed agreement from the Richland Two school district concerning the gym, but added that the $1 figure keeps the project in the budget so it can still be debated.

“I’m not interested in the proposed agreement Richland Two has sent to us, but I don’t want to walk away,” Brock said.

Councilwoman Erica Page also balked at the gym project, saying she’d rather dedicate resources toward developing more green space.

“That building is not habitable as we speak. The cost to do anything is going to be extravagant,” she said.

Initially, Brock also proposed lowering the funding to construct a farmer’s market facility from $750,000 to $1. He said farmer’s market costs have skyrocketed from $1.2 million to $1.8 million, with no end in sight to construction cost increases.

“Mark my words, if we’re here this time next year with the $750,000 hanging out there, I’m not going to budge,” he said. “We’re going to demand some answers. I don’t feel comfortable allocating [$750,000] to something I’m not thinking will ever materialize.”

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]