Growth in the city of Simpsonville is on a forward path, but one topic continues to create issues among constituents:
Last year city council chose to discontinue leaf and brush pickup for residents, and began outsourcing its weekly waste removal services. Money had been moved away from Public Works in years prior, and the neglect to the city’s equipment caused a deficiency that the city could not remedy with the 2016-17 budget without making the cuts.
The outcry following a stormy fall in 2016 made clear that residents valued the leaf and brush pickup, and wanted to see the service restored. Council has gone through a lengthy budgeting process in an attempt to meet the requests of constituents, adding additional workshop meetings and preparing seven different budget options.
The budget option that rose to the top does restore brush pickup to the residential areas, but it discontinues waste removal services to mobile home parks and some of the city’s businesses.
This did not sit well with business leaders in the community, and the Simpsonville Chamber of Commerce took action first with a survey to members, then sent a letter to council. Allison McGarity, Chamber President, writes of the survey results “…it is clear to me that their disapproval can be attributed to three major areas of concern: the financial burden this decision will place on businesses, the lack of transparency surrounding the process, and the degradation of the City’s appearance.”
Immediately before the June Business Meeting on Tuesday, the city held a public hearing regarding the budget proposal. Several residents and business owners were present at the meeting and chose to address council. From the business side, most comments mirrored the Chamber’s letter.
Jason Hucks, owner of 138 S. Main St., worries that the additional $200-300 expense may hurt smaller businesses in the downtown district. “As Simpsonville, over the last couple of years, has started on a really nice growth track–we’re starting to see a lot more businesses coming in, we’re seeing more restaurants and bars, we’re seeing the little boutiques, and a number of other types of businesses coming to the area. I think if you start adding additional expenses, taking away services that were once there, then it just becomes kind of a negative view to incoming and existing businesses.”
Hunter Howard II, of Howard Properties, was also concerned about economic impact, but added that the aesthetics of the downtown area could be greatly impacted by the loss of trash service. Howard owns several buildings downtown, and spoke out of concern for his 30 or so tenants in Simpsonville. He said businesses pay 2-2.5 times the taxes that residential property owners pay, and ”…to have them subsidize the trash services for residents, when they are paying more to start with, just doesn’t seem right.”
Danny Smith, who owns a business just down from the clock tower, suggested that the city sell a couple of police cars to fund the budget. He also expressed concern about removal of the trash he currently absorbs from patrons of the Ice Cream Station.
In addition to the business concerns, mobile home park owners and renters spoke up again. Mitch Gault, owner of one of the city’s mobile home parks, says he understands the city is “hunting money,” but believes that everyone should share in making up in Simpsonville’s shortfall. “It has a bad smell for the city,” Gault said in closing.
Councilmembers expressed their own concerns before the vote.
“I think we as a council have beaten this horse to death, and I don’t know any other way to get there,” said Councilman Matthew Gooch of their extensive efforts to create a budget.
Council member Jenn Hulehan says that she is uncomfortable with any tax increase option, because the city does not have a current master plan.
“I would wager that my ward…that those are not going to be affected by the loss of trash services, but that the small businesses in our downtown area are,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Braswell. She believes council should take more time to consider the impact the budget will have on those affected.
The city is almost out of time, however. If the new budget is not approved at the next meeting on June 27, the city will be operating without a budget when the current one expires at the end of the month.
The first reading of the budget was approved 3-2. Councilmembers Taylor Graham and Ken Cummings were both absent for the vote.
In addition to the budget, council finalized changes to the city’s Animal Ordinance, allowing residents to own pit bull terriers and pit bull mixed breeds. They also approved a fee increase for contractors seeking permits in the city, a move that will help city staff service the growing list of permit and inspection requests in a more timely manner.
Council encouraged the public to offer any solutions they may see, and to continue to speak up. Contacts for council and meeting minutes and agendas are available at simpsonville.com