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Bamboozled: County legislators kept Greer officials out of the loop

By Jim Fair, Editor
Published on Monday, June 17, 2013

Greer community leaders and politicians claim they have been bamboozled and it’s going to cost each taxpayer an extra $20 in Greenville County taxes.

The alleged caper involves the dissolution of the Greenville County Recreation District (GCRD) assets and liabilities to merge under Greenville County. A resolution will be voted on by County Council Tuesday evening after a public hearing at 6 p.m. A super majority – two-thirds of County Council – is needed.

Amanda Somers, a local businesswoman, said it’s a ‘done deal”.

City Councilman Wryley Bettis (District 5) is more descriptive. “This political scenario represents truly the worst local examples of behind-the-scenes dealing, mishandling the truth and purposely avoiding scrutiny by the affected taxpayers that I have seen since my election to City Council in 1999.”

At issue is the amending of House (H. 3268) and Senate (S. 295) bills permitting a special purpose district (GCRD), which provides recreational services in the same county (Greenville) to voluntarily dissolve itself and transfer its assets and liabilities.  Both of those bills were introduced and top-heavily sponsored by Greenville County legislators that represent portions of Greer.

Mayor Rick Danner reasoned that, “I don’t think this is the road the county and district would have taken without taking a headcount. We’re getting the recreation district dissolved essentially by resolution – one reading.”

GCRD attempted to amend the special district in 2008 but it didn’t gain any traction. “The problem was we tried to do it ourselves,” Gene Smith, GCRD Executive Director, said. “That was a mistake. This time we came to an early agreement with Joe Kernell (Greenville County Administrator) and the County.”

That agreement resulted in virtually the entire Greenville County delegation sponsoring the House bill that was passed (99-5). Senators Mike Fair (Greenville), Karl Allen (Greenville), Daniel Verdin, III (Laurens) and Ronnie Cromer (Lexington/Newberry/Union) sponsored the senate bill that was approved 43-0. Governor Nikki Haley signed the amendment May 3.

GCRD staff  have undergone county employment orientation anticipating the merger taking effect July 1. All assets and liabilities will be dissolved by Sept. 30.

Greenville County’s four largest cities, Greer, Greenville, Mauldin and Simpsonville, will fall under the merger, representing 126,000 more taxpayers, according to the 2010 Census. Those four cities opted out of the district in the past and began their own recreation departments – several are model community recreation centers and parks.

“I don’t think there’s any objection to the county taking over GCRD,” Danner said. “It’s not being able to address the issue.”

Danner, Bettis and Cunningham said they are miffed how and when they found out about GCRD’s merger with the County and the subsequent tax increase. Danner said he heard about it from a State Municipal Association member and Cunningham said she heard it in passing shortly after Danner.

“At no time in the process were the impacted municipalities consulted or warned (even by our own legislators) that such a bill was being written,” Bettis said. “When the time finally came to get sponsors to sign on for the legislation, other members of the Greenville County Legislative Delegation (all the senators and representatives) were told that the cities were in favor of the bill.”

One report said residents outside the four cities could expect a decrease of about $10 a year when the millage is calculated. Annexation, the report said, has been the linchpin in the arguments with proponents claiming expanding cities have cut into the county’s tax base. Those opposed suggest annexation has not been appreciably significant and the tax represents double taxation for residents and businesses.

The GCRD board of commissioners took their final vote approving the merger following a public hearing last Tuesday at the Pavilion. Only four citizens – all seniors – spoke at the hearing. No one from Greer attended.

“The whole process was under the radar,” Ann Cunningham, Greer Parks and Recreation Director, said. “What was not disclosed was the additional tax on our citizens. I knew Gene (Smith) was proposing to dissolve the GCRD into the County but they never said there would be additional taxes. I hope with what they impose on all the municipalities there will be additional services provided.”

Smith said he met with Cunningham and City Administrator Ed Driggers.

“We will use the new dollars to correct deficiencies in our maintenance of facilities. And we will try to protect historical sites and expand trail systems,” Smith said.

Smith said the GCRD board will continue in an advisory capacity and he will now answer to Kernel. “The board will undergo some change.” It’s believed the 7-member all-white male commission will undergo diversification.

Duplication of employees will mostly be administrative, where Smith said Greenville County will assume those duties. Affected employees will be reassigned and within five years, Smith said, attrition will stabilize the additional employees.

“We are of the opinion that no amount of hearings or protests will stop this juggernaut from completing its mission,” Bettis said. “We are very interested at this point to set the record clear who pushed this tax and voted for it, why they did it in relative secrecy, and how they plan to justify yet another double tax on the citizens of these municipalities, especially those lawmakers who represent those citizens for whom they voted yes to new taxes.”

Sponsors of House Bill #3268

Joshua A. Putnam, Anderson/Greenville/Pickens District 10

Mark N. Willis, Greenville/Laurens District 16

* Tommy Stringer, Greenville District 18

Dwight Loftis, Greenville District 19

Daniel P. Hamilton, Greenville District 20

Phyllis Henderson, Greenville District 21

Wendy Nanney, Greenville District 22

Chandra E. Dillard, Greenville District 23

Leola Robinson-Simpson, District 25

Garry R. Smith, Greenville District 27

Eric M. Bedington, Greenville District 28

William M. Chumley, Greenville/Spartanburg District 35

Rita Allison, Spartanburg District 36

Patsy Knight, Colleton/Dorchester District 97

* Asked to removed as a sponsor on March 20.

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