NEWBERRY — Newberry County Council voted 4-3 Wednesday night not to delete $70,000 in operational funding for the Newberry County Museum from the fiscal year 2017-18 operating budget, following an hour of discussion between museum supporters and council members.
The deletion will be an amendment for the 2017-18 operating budget.
During the meeting, members of the community packed Council Chambers in support of the museum. These individuals included local business owners, history lovers and other concerned residents. Denise Reid, who is actively involved with the museum, spoke for keeping the $70,000.
“As you can see from the attendance this has not been a single group effort. It has been a grassroots effort with a lot of support. Where the $70,000 first came from was the Capital Project Sales Tax application. When it was approved by Council as a county sponsored project, with county advice, it was re-worked for the budget so that there would be a commitment from the county, the city and the college, and those commitments were made,” Reid said. “The commitment of $70,000 was up to $35,000 be in kind. For example, should there be a plumbing issue and the county handle that, that would be covered under that. This was actually part of the package of the Capital Project Sales Tax, not part of the $2.2 million, but the sustainability of the project.”
Reid continued by saying they have come such a long way, but there is a ways to go. She said the museum building needs to be serviceable, functional and be there for educational purposes. It cannot be there as something that has been completed, but not sustainable for the future.
“By pulling out of this at this time, that signals to the city and the college a lack of that commitment. That is very concerning. Just as any museum or any operating theater or anything of this nature the work does not begin after the project is complete, the work must begin now,” she said. “We worked the capital project sales tax vote, we paid in terms of funding for marketing, we went to many organizations, every municipality to support every project, and we hope you will stand behind this project to make sure it is not only a beautiful building, but that it is functional and is important for many years to come to promote and protect Newberry’s heritage.”
Councilman Kirksey Koon, who proposed the amendment originally, told the crowd he wanted them to know why he did so.
“I want everybody to know that I support the museum. I was born and raised here in Newberry County, I grew up here my whole life, except for the time I spent during the Vietnam War. I was a military police officer, and I came back here and went to work for the City Police Department before I retired. I love Newberry County and I plan on staying here the rest of my life,” he said. “It is very important that we have museum, and I supported the use of the building, I also supported the one cent sales tax, which is going to allow you to get $2.2 million. What I do not support is using property tax money. And property tax money is collected for certain things, all aspects of public works, public safety, which includes police, fire, rescue, the whole nine yards. It also is for the upkeep of county owned property, which the county does on the old library/museum. It is also used for employee wages, for county employee wages. This $70,000 is property tax money that if you do not pay it then we are going to sell your property on the courthouse steps. That is forcing somebody using their funds to support a special interest group, and that is what this is a special interest group.”
Upon saying this, the crowd yelled, “no it is not.”
Koon reminded those in attendance that County Council passed a resolution in 2013 to conditionally convert the old Newberry Library to a museum, and that the museum needed to have a business plan. It also stated that the county did not commit to providing any cost for the conversion.
“This agreement is still in effect,” he said. “We do not have an agreement in writing that protects the taxpayers of Newberry County. I will give an example, at this point in time if the museum were to open and something were to happen, an accident of some type, it would not be the new museum’s problem because I do not think they have any insurance on it yet. If you do please let us know, the liability would fall on Newberry County taxpayers.”
Councilman Scott Cain stated that the museum, like libraries, come under the U.S. Department of Interior, and are not a special interest group.
“The other thing is, I think working with the museum that all the museum board assumed they were complying by everything here, they put a business plan together, they went to the penny sales tax folks, the whole plan included the $70,000. We chose that as one of our five projects we sponsored. I think we have already done what we need to do for this resolution,” he said.
Councilman Bill Waldrop asked Reid if she has talked to Newberry City Council for funding. She said they have a letter from the city and the college committing to help with funding. Waldrop asked if they had any funds from the museum at this time.
“At this time their particular budget we have not petitioned, we are working on right now, but yes they have made that commitment,” Reid said.
Waldrop said he is in favor of the museum, and that they have spent plenty of money on the museum.
“I think a while back we spent $250,000 and now the people have voted to spend $2.2 million on the building, on the penny sales tax, and now you want $70,000 right now, and the building will not even be ready for 24 months, so what are you going to do with the $70,000?” he asked.
Reid passed out a document that highlighted items a curator would need to do to help get the museum ready.
“Please do not think of this as something personal toward any councilman. We are very proud of what the council has done so far. We are asking for what was a commitment to be carried out, something you can be proud of for many years,” Reid said. “There is real concern if this is viewed negatively by council at this time, it could impact the other commitments.”
Koon then stated that he spoke with the city manager and they had not budgeted any money for the museum.
“Mr. Adams put this in the budget for us at this time unsolicited, and knowing it was a commitment and we appreciate this,” Reid said.
Waldrop then addressed the crowd.
“This is extra money, you voted for the sales tax, you voted for $2.2 million to remodel that building. That is what you voted for, not $70,000 to pay anybody some money, which I thought was going to be volunteer, that is how I feel about it,” he said.
Councilman Henry Livingston reminded those in the audience that council has to take a lot into consideration when crafting a budget each year.
“A lot of you out there right now are in support of this museum, but if that ambulance breaks down on the way to your loved one, you are going to be raising Cain of why we did not have a proper vehicle in place,” Livingston said. “That being said, I am not a fan favorite of the museum, I was not a fan favorite of the Opera House, I have to admit I was wrong. That place has yielded a lot of improvements Downtown, and it would not be where it is without it.
“Because of the integrity of the CPST, I am not going to sit here and tell you I am going to vote for $70,000 for the next 10 years of recurring money, but the whole thing being, I think Ms. Reid presented for every $1 spent $7 comes back into the economy. That being said, I am willing to plant a next egg for a while,” he added.
Koon made a motion to approve the amendment to remove the $70,000 for the museum from the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget. Waldrop seconded it. Those voting in favor of Koon’s motion were Koon, Waldrop and Councilman Steve Stockman. Livingston, Cain, Councilman Travis Reeder and Councilwoman Harriett Rucker voted against the motion so it failed 3-4, meaning the money stays in the budget for the museum.
After the vote County Administrator Wayne Adams clarified the funding. The $70,000 appropriation, up to half of which may be in kind. For example if a repair was needed for the building.
“I am not in favor, at this time, of making a county employee for the museum. There might not be enough cash when all is said and done, considering in kind stipulation and the fact that you will have other bills. You may not have enough to reimburse the difference between the cash that we give and the cost of staffing,” Adams said.
He said this would present a dilemma for the county, because Adams would have to make a decision to ‘eat’ the staffing cost, which would be more than council voted for, or they would have to lay the employees off.
In other business, council approved amendments to the 2017-18 budget that will increase poll workers pay by $20 for the June 2018 primary, which totals $3,000; insert $500,000 of lease purchase funding for the procurement of rolling stock equipment services, with the numbers and types of such equipment to be specified by council no later than third reading of a separate lease-purchase ordinance; issue bonded indebtedness in the amount of $1,250,000 in lieu of using fund balance/cash reserves to fund the following expenditures at the indicated amounts: Transfer Station (Scale House), $60,000; IT Server Room, $30,000; DHEC/DSS Building Improvements, $54,000; Old Jolly Street Road Bridge, $94,422; Mid Carolina Commerce Park Irrigation, $30,000; Public Works Storage Tank Removal, $150,000; MCCP Site Prep/Pad Readiness/Spec Building Improvements, $331,578; and Detention Center Improvements, $500,000; increase funding for salaries by 0.5 percent (for county employees) at a cost of $55,038; increase local government fund revenue by $67,500 from $1,417,103 to $1,484,603; authorize adjusting the final FY 17-18 budget revenues and expenditures for capital projects to reflect actual progress to date at the time of the budget’s publication.
• Council approved third reading of the 2017-18 budget as amended.
• Council approved third reading of an ordinance to provide appropriations for the new fiscal year for the Newberry County Library, Piedmont Technical College and Newberry Agency of Disabilities and Special Needs. The Community Service Levy is currently balanced at $899,193.
• Council approved third reading and had a public hearing, for which one person spoke in support of, an ordinance that would rezone three acres of real estate property from Rural to General Commercial.
• Council approved third reading and had a public hearing, for which one person spoke in support, of an ordinance that would rezone ten acres of real estate from Rural to General commercial.
• Terry Cotney with the Freedom and Hope Foundation spoke against zoning changes that affect RVs. The Newberry Observer will have more on this in an upcoming edition.
Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @ TheNBOnews.