SC town $4.5M in debt, also months late on passing a budget

SWANSEA, SC (WIS) - There are more financial troubles for the town of Swansea, which is already $4.5 million in debt. Now the town is a month and a half late in approving this year's budget.

The town council met for more than an hour Thursday to figure out how to cut nearly $100,000. Options include 24 furlough days for town employees, raising property taxes and raising water and sewer bills.
The South Carolina Municipal Association is in town on 600 to help get Swansea's finances figured out. "They're working to make sure that this doesn't take place again in the future," said Municipal Association spokesman Scott Slatton.

Swansea's water and sewer bills could go up 40 percent because Mayor Ray Spires signed a $3 million loan with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to upgrade and expand the town's water and sewer lines. The loan payment is more than $11,000 a month.
The mayor says the town's systems were in immediate need of repair, and the investment is worth it. But the mayor's remarks have some in and out of town fighting back.

"They've really had a joy ride for quite a while with no rate increases," said Spires. "They don't like it, but it's like you going to the gas pump. You pay for gas going up each day, your electricity goes up, your groceries go up."

That has some in Swansea sounding off over a proposal that would raise water and sewer fees by as much as 40 percent. "We have a meat and two vegetables, and we normally give them a dessert and a milk," said Jessie green, who runs the town's senior center. "A lot of them, this is all they get."

Green spends five days a week helping Swansea seniors spend within their budgets. He has gone before council several times as an advocate for Swansea seniors in keeping their town fees down so they can stay within their fixed incomes.

Green says an increase in water fees would mean choosing between medicine, food, electricity, and paying a higher water bill. "It means they're going to have to spend money they're not getting," he said. "If an increase comes in at this point, by the summer, I don't know what they're going to do. It will devastate a lot of them, it will."

Last fall, Swansea paid Lexington County $450,000 for a water tower on Highway 321 and the eight customers that go with it. That includes heather Lowell, who lives outside Swansea's town limits.

"Effective immediately that the joint municipal water and sewer commission sold the water line to the town of Swansea," said Lovell about a letter that came in October. "30 days later, the water reading went up in November for a total bill of $75.11."

"The first water bill through the town of Swansea was right around $75," said Lowell. "It almost doubled."
Lovell showed up for Thursday's budget meeting after hearing the mayor's comments. "I have absolutely no voting power in Swansea," she said. "Basically have no say in Swansea, basically because I'm a Gaston resident. I'm paying for a lot of decisions that I have absolutely no control over."

Water sewer rates are not official yet, but the council says it's necessary to pay for the upgrades and to balance the town's budgets.

Any rate increase will be decided when the town passes its budget. The council meets again on the budget Monday night, and hopes to pass it by April.

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