Gray Court passes budget, cuts LCDC funding

The Gray Court Town Council unanimously approved its budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year Monday night, voting 5-0 as council held second and final reading on the budget ordinance.

The $690,500 budget was passed without public discussion from board members Monday night during their regular meeting and without public comment.

Town Manager Garry Smith said the balanced budget does not contain a tax increase or increase in fees beyond what council had already agreed upon prior to the beginning of this year’s budget process.

Council also decided to cut its funding for part of the Laurens County Development Corporation, which has helped drive industry to the county, including large industries such as ZF Transmissions and Fibertex to Gray Court.

With its vote, council decided to cut this year’s $10,000 contribution to the LCDC in half to $5,000, but in doing so the town will lose its seat on the LCDC Board of Directors, which consists of 17 county municipalities, government bodies and business entities.

The cities of Fountain Inn, Laurens and Clinton sit on the board. Gray Court is by far the smallest of the county’s municipalities sitting on the board.

Town Manager Garry Smith said during budget discussions, council members and Mayor Stellartean Jones weighed the $10,000 expenditure against the return the town was getting from the LCDC.

“(During budget discussions), council members were looking at some things in detail and chatted about them, and they asked, ‘Why are we spending this much money on a yearly basis, and what are we getting for it?’” Smith said.

They decided it wasn’t enough.

LCDC President and CEO Jonathan Coleman addressed council during its work session prior to the regular meeting and urged members to stay the course.

He said Jones had called his office and informed his staff the town may not fund the LCDC fully with this year’s budget.

Coleman said the majority of its funding – about 65% – comes from money generated by fee-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, which are incentives to attract industry to the county. The rest comes from the $10,000 in annual dues paid by LCDC board members.

He also laid out the return Gray Court had received for its annual fee to sit on the board.

Coleman said since its inception, the LCDC has helped bring more than 3,000 jobs and over $1 billion in investments to Gray Court, adding that three investments in 2021 will total $252 million and create 539 new jobs.

He also alluded to a major expansion by Fibertex, which is a short drive from Town Hall, that is to be announced next week.

“The growth has led to increased property tax revenue, business licenses and franchise-fee revenues for Gray Court,” Coleman said, noting millions in grants for sewer service due to the addition of Fibertex.

Smith said the town’s finances and bank account are in good shape. Gray Court’s checking account contains about $70,000 and its general fund balance is currently around $1 million.

“One of the reasons why (finances are good) is that (board members) do ask questions and take a hard look at the finances of the town on a regular basis,” Smith said.

Board members could consider putting the LCDC funds back into the budget in July if they vote to add the money from the town’s contingency fund.

In other action Monday:

Council agreed to execute a contract previously agreed upon that will make a portion of the Pleasant View Community Center campus home to the South Carolina Empowerment Centre.

The former Pleasant View schoolhouse is also home of the Laurens Y’s Gray Court facility, is used as an event space and has housed other agencies in the past.

Representatives from the SCEC, which is funded by the United Way of Laurens County, said they have been working toward opening its facility but needed the contract to be executed in order to open in time for summer camps and other activities.

The non-profit SCEC provides youth-centered services for disadvantaged people and has provided regular food shares over the past year in different areas of Laurens County, including Gray Court.

In addition to food shares, the agency provides free hygiene items, job training and tutoring in a variety of subjects, including STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) programs.

Council instructed Town Attorney David Holmes to execute the contract by July 1.

Also, new council member Geneik Brewster took her oath of office and sat in on her first meeting as a member of council. Brewster ran uncontested in a special election necessitated by the resignation of former Councilwoman Shaterica Neal.

Brewer is one of three new members to join council over the past year. Jones mentioned the need to elect a mayor pro tem, but no vote was taken.

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