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Thursday, February 2, 2017

COTU Meets With Pickens County ....

On January 31, 2017 Conservatives of the Upstate members Johnnelle Raines (Board member) Carol Smith (Board Member / Secretary) and Junius Smith (President) met with the Pickens County Attorney Ken Roper, Pickens County Administrator Gerald Wilson, and the County Information Specialist, Lauren Gilstrap to discuss the concerns that we had about over-collecting by the County of $45 million dollars since 1991, and seven other items that we felt were violations of our State Constitution and statutory laws ..

We sincerely thank the county for this opportunity. Here are our thoughts and we hope to continue to work with the county to understand these issues going forward.

The Conservatives of the Upstate contend that the County Council has over collected $45 million dollars from 1991 to now and should be refunded to the people per SC Law 12-43-285. The County feels that SC law 12-43-296 supersedes SC 12-43-285 and gives the County the supreme right to violate the 285 law, and provide the County with a 6 month slush fund of $23 million dollars to be used for emergencies like an earthquake, tornado, etc.. County Attorney, Ken Roper maintained that funds over collected before 12-43-296 was enacted fell into this category. We disagree. We also disagree that 12-43-296 gives the County Council such a broad range of funds quoting the amount as “being reasonable” $23 million is not reasonable and is simply an excuse to say the money was not misappropriated. The Council has shown it cannot be trusted with such a large amount of money as they have currently designated the money for a new jail which is in deference to their whole argument.

The number must also be arbitrary because it is said to represent 6 months of government operation for the county in the case of emargency. The county budget is $56 million. $23 million is 41% of the annual budget. The "emergency fund" also doesn't take into account that we'd get no State or Federal assistance.

The Conservatives of the Upstate pointed out that another $22 million dollars (approximately) had been over-collected prior to SC Law 12-43-296 even being enacted. The money had been spent on various unbudgeted items like grading of the industrial park to donations to the Boy Scouts and horticulture for the main street in Pickens for a festival. The revenue for these items was collected by the “conservative approach Council makes toward estimating revenues” as quoted in nearly every audit report since 1991 and probably before that.

Why do we use 1991 as the base year? 

 It was around that year that Junius Smith went through every reassessment bill in the County and found that the County had gained 13% when the allowable amount was 1%. This type of gain was being realized every time a reassessment was being held in the County. Junius Smith informed the Auditor, Mr. George Bryant, as all this research was done in the Auditor’s office. There were other irregularities found during this Audit.

The delinquent tax account was being used improperly: Every time a citizen used their right to protest their property tax, the money was pulled from the main body of funds which lowered the figure for the total amount used to calculate whether the reassessment had over-collected on the 1%. The same is true on the new formula provided to calculate “millage rollback” furnished by Ken Roper to us for this meeting. Junius Smith was told that some of this was corrected, but the money had already been over-collected and was never refunded and is part of the money they have either spent or have today.

One million dollars was paid to the County ($400,000) and School Board ($600,0000) by Duke Energy after the budget was formulated and the people charged the tax on the erroneous amount. Mr. Bryant was quoted as saying he had called the Department of Revenue and it was their opinion that the money had to be refunded to the people. It never was refunded.

It is also our opinion that the recreational fund has been operated in error. Donating a track and tennis court to a church supported school smacks right to the heart of the separation of church and state. We believe such a transaction is unconstitutional. It does not matter from which governmental fund the money was donated - either tourism or county recreation, we feel it to be unconstitutional and favors one church over the other. (1st amendment of the US Constitution). We also question the return on investment. Other recreation funds used in Liberty $60,000+ netted less than $1700 in revenue.

We feel there is no need for a county recreation fund. It is wasteful and has been shown to be a slush fund for reelection.

Going forward the Council has toyed with funding items for Tri-County Tech. The latest is a $6.5 million dollar charge for a building on the campus. It is the opinion of the Conservatives of the Upstate that this is a State responsibility under Article 11 Section 3 and should not burden the people of Pickens County. Our report shows only 18% of the students at Tech are from Pickens County. In addition, Pickens County has spent tens of millions of dollars building two Career Centers, equipping and staffing them which was Tech”s original mission and its reason for being. 

In summary, The Conservatives of the Upstate believe the County owes the people of Pickens County $45 million dollars payable to the property owners. We would settle if the Council would put the $23 million on the ballot and let the people have a say with their money, abolish the recreation fund expenditures until such time as Pickens County has its own recreation department, stop any donations to church supported schools, stop any donations or payments to Tri County Tech, and do away with slush funds and only have reserves of money to be spent only in specific, critical areas like gas and oil. It is further recommended that budgetary percents like collectibility % be modified to reflect what is happening now and in the past and prevented from making huge gains so as to build slush funds. All this would prevent costly legal fees to make the county compliant to state standards and gain the confidence of the people.

The oath of elected representatives is to “preserve, protect, and defend the constitutions of the US and State” and the greater knowledge is this:

Luke 3:12-13 

"Then Came the tax collectors to be baptized, and said unto Him, Teacher what shall we do? and He said unto them, 'Exact no more than that which is appointed you.'"

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