EASLEY — Members of The Greater Easley Chamber of Commerce, business owners and community leaders met with city officials on Thursday to hear Easley Mayor Larry Bagwell give the annual State of the City address.
Last year was a big year for community outreach programs, Bagwell said.
“We have an open door policy here at City Hall and if you don’t like the way we’re doing something, or if you have ideas for the future, we always want you to come down and talk to us,” he said. “Now, I may not agree with you — but that’s OK too.”
Bagwell said although Easley is a city, he wants to maintain “that small-town feel.”
“Our departments are involved in the community, it’s been a main focus across the board for us here at City Hall. We have the police serving up popcorn at the Fourth of July event, they hand out candy during the Halloween Trunk or Treat right here in Old Market Square and the deliver toys to children during the holidays,” he said. “I want to tell you, they also had the Blue Light BBQ — what exactly was that, Tim (Tollison)?”
“The best BBQ in South Carolina,” the Chief of Police answered. “It funds our Citizens Police Academy.”
Moving on to the Fire Department, Bagwell offered high praise to Chief Butch Womack for the continued success of the department’s Boot Drive, smoke detector campaign and car seat safety checks.
He stated the department’s open house at Station no. 2 had become “quite the event,” with kids looking forward to it all year.
Additionally, the mayor said he was proud the city was involved in other organizations such as volunteering to run Meals on Wheels routes, dying the gazebo fountain for Cancer Awareness and Relay for life and working with veterans for the annual Honoring Their Service ride.
“We even had city staff and City Council dress up as cheerleaders at McKissick Elementary as part of a fundraiser for the school,” he chucked. “But that’s what we do. We’re a part of this community and we enjoy doing these things. I think in the coming year, we’ll probably do more of this kind of stuff.”
One of the things about Easley he was most proud of was the recreation, Bagwell said.
“You know, we’ve come a long way,” he said. “We’ve got The Doodle Trail — we got that 1.1 mile section opened downtown and have you seen that new park? We’ll have an official ribbon cutting later on down the line but the park should be done very soon — within in the next couple of weeks.”
The mayor also stressed how the success of the Little League World Series at the J.B. Red Owens Sports Complex every year is starting to put Easley “on the map.”
Financially speaking, Bagwell said the city was in good shape, having just paid off two bonds.
“The City’s General Fund had a positive year and we were able to increase our fund balance by almost $300,000,” he said. “We were able to provide quality services for our citizens while being good stewards of our citizen’s tax dollars. Our financial income sources remained strong for the year and we are seeing increases in revenue for Hospitality and Local Option Sales Tax.”
The Local Option Sales Tax is used to help keep property taxes lower for Easley residents, he explained before stating the city is currently trending ahead of last year in almost all revenue sources at the halfway point of the fiscal year.
As far as the city’s debt is concerned, the mayor stated a $400,000 Stormwater Bond has been issued to assist with the cost for the Oak Creek project.
Additionally, the state of S.C. continues to impact local municipalities with continued reductions in the Local Government Fund, which has caused Easley to absorb close to $1 million in revenue losses since 2010, he said.
The State raising the retirement contribution rates for municipalities by 7 percent over the next six years hasn’t helped either.
“Last year it was a two percent increase,” he said. “And we will see another one percent increase over the next five years.”
Each percent point is equivalent to about $60-70,000 in the city’s budget, he said.