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Wednesday
Sep112019

9-11 Also a Day to Reflect on the Best America Offers

Caledonian Record

Today is the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on our country.

We remember the chaos and tragedy of the day. We also remember the heroism of ordinary citizens and first-responders; the indomitable spirit of unity; the singularity of purpose; and the outpouring of sympathy in the wake of the attacks.

These spontaneous, loving responses, in the face of overwhelming tragedy, represented the best of the United States of America.

Pockets of glory, dignity, unity, grace and hope sprung from the terror of Sept. 11.

We saw it in the faces of the firefighters rushing into a building past others as they fled.

We saw it in the tragic imagery of people jumping from the towers – defiantly taking their lives on their own terms.

We saw it in the countless thousands of volunteers who went to New York to support the cleanup and rescue effort.

We saw it in the waves of military volunteers following the attacks, men like Pat Tillman, who sacrificed everything to serve.

We heard it in the voices of the perished, as their final messages to families and loved ones are replayed.

We heard it in the comforting words of dispatchers that day as they attempted to maintain calm amidst the utter chaos.

We remember fondly, in a time when Americans seem so anxious to underscore divisions, the way that all Americans came together.

These memories resonate with us all because they portray Americans; people bound together by a deeply ingrained respect for the rights and lives of fellow humans. While we can’t possibly protect ourselves against all of life’s bizarre and sometimes cruel eventualities, we can protect our system of laws that make us uniquely free.

Unfortunately the tragic events of that day also led to institutional transformations that do not reflect America’s ideals.

Before the dust settled, our government set in motion an unprecedented broadening of federal power, and the marginalization of critical constitutional safeguards. Done under a cloak of secrecy labeled “national security,” this unchecked expansion of government agencies has resulted in the loss of money, lives, and key American principles.

Included in the long arm of President George Bush’s federal government were covert operations, secret prisons and the use of torture by the CIA; the National Security Agency’s “terrorist surveillance network,” which intruded on the rights of Americans by secretly spying on private citizens, making an end-run around the Fourth Amendment, and operating outside of the purview of the judiciary; and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, whose profligate spending is mostly secret but always rising.

At best, these agencies and their clandestine programs have been unnecessary and expensive. At worst, they’ve laid the groundwork for the disregard of the American system of checks and balances, and the protections of private citizens against the encroachment of the federal government.

In terms of human life and overall cost, the most dramatic result of the 9/11 attacks were wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars have born a terrible toll on area families whose beloved children have perished or been injured in service to country. The residual effects of the conflicts can be seen in the rise of new terror groups and the world’s current migrant crisis.

Despite President Barack Obama and Trump’s campaign promises to the contrary, both Presidents re-authorized or expanded every anti-terror program of their predecessor.

Revelations by Edward Snowden cast much-needed light on how Orwellian and expansive these illegal programs are. And though some small, token reforms were made in the immediate aftermath of Snowden’s efforts, the “War on Terror” remains open-ended. So too do the government’s ubiquitous, anti-terror surveillance programs.

While there have been few attacks on American soil since the 9/11 tragedy, that protection has come at an impossibly high cost. We have lost thousands more lives, trillions of dollars, and civil liberties to avert another attack. We have sacrificed much of what makes us uniquely American.

Like everyone, we were deeply affected by the events of Sept. 11 and are eternally thankful for the relative safety we’ve since enjoyed on American soil. Still we mourn the monumental sacrifices we’ve made on the false altar of security. We’re reminded of the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin – “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

Tuesday
Sep032019

Time for County to Fill Funding Pot Hole to Maintain Roads

Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer Commentary

Tonight Anderson County Council will discuss filling a big economic pothole, one which is getting deeper every year. 

When county council meets tonight, it will consider a road maintence fee to take care of the more than 1,500 miles of county roads. The fee would be used 100 percent to repair roads, and could never be allocated for other uses. It past time to consider a vehicle fee in Anderson County and help pave the way for our future. The exact amount is still in question, but the most commonly floated fee would be $25 per vehicle, with exemptions for senior citizens, and modifications for businesses.

Currently 27 counties in South Carolina have vehicle fees. Horry County has the highest fees at $50 per year, while Abbeville County boasts the lowest - and oddest - at $13.99. The statewide average is roughly $24 per year per vehicle. Those counties have a steady source of revenue to maintain and repair roads. Anderson County does not.

To maintain all roads/bridges infrastructure in Anderson County would require more than $8 million per year. Sadly, a sustainable funding source for our roads and bridges is not in sight. County council has pieced together a variety of temporary funding sources, but years of neglect requires more than some paving and putting band aids on many of our our pocked, crumbling roads.

Meanwhile, Anderson County’s population is booming. The population has nearly doubled since 1970, and has grown by nearly 35,000 since 2000. The 2020 Census preliminary numbers suggest the population now tops 200,000. 

This growth has created an accelerated demand for services, but an increase in taxes and fees have not kept pace with the population growth to provide for the growing population. The county’s base millage rate remains among the lowest in the state, and council has been prudent in leading the county out of the 2008 economic downturn by keeping property taxes down. 

 I have talked to leadership in almost all of Anderson’s charitable organizations, and most agreed that even the working poor and those on fixed incomes could absorb such modest fees if it meant better roads. 

A number of national studies also suggest that well-maintained roads more than offset the cost of vehicle fees in savings on tires and other mechanical repairs. 

So there is little reason not to act now, and council is to be commended for taking this big step to improve the county's infrastructure.

If Anderson County approved the $25 annual vehicle fee, with a provision that the money can never be used for any purpose other than road and bridge maintenance and repair, it would generate more than $5.3 million annually. The math works out to just over $2 per month for the owner of a vehicle.

Essentially, the fee means that every owner of a vehicle - those who use the roads - would be providing a sustainable source of funding Anderson County roads and bridges at a cost of pennies per day both for today and for the future. 

Any Anderson County citizen who can afford to maintain a vehicle should recognize fuding county roads is likely to save them more than the annual fee in tires and alignement costs. 

Anderson County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. Wages are up, new jobs are everywhere and more on the way. The county has more international investment than any other in South Carolina, with more than 51 companies representing 23 nations calling Anderson home. 

The new Arthrex facility in Sandy Springs and continued growth of TTI and Michelin, have kept Anderson at the forefront in economic development, in spite of our roads. But quality of life and other issues, which are crucial to economic development, include such things as maintence of our transportation pathways. Anderson cannot afford to forever allow our roads funding to lag and struggle and play catch up just to patch and repair and expect outside investment to continue to grow.

But that is exactly what could happen if a sustainable funding source is not found soon. 

Council has shown great wisdom in moving forward on paving the way to a bright future by making the vehicle fee a part of the FY budget now being hammered out. The public is always invlted to council meetings, but you can contact your council representative anytime here.

It's important to note that the statewide increase in gas taxes does not pay for any roads owned and maintained by the county. The paving of state roads here is welcome, but is only a small help if our 

Funding roads is another big step toward progress in Anderson County. Let's hope the new road maintenance fee does not face any more roadblocks.

Monday
Aug262019

Opinion: Voter Registration Path to Better Future

Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

In 1920, eight days after it was ratified, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect -- giving women the right to vote. In 2016 general elections, a higher percentage of woman who were eligible (55 percent) voted than men who were eligible to vote (51.8 percent).

Sadly, that means close to have of all eligible Americans who were eligible to vote did not. And this does not include the 21.7 percent of American citizens who are not registered to vote. Why millions stay home and millions more don't even register is a commentary on our system.

Only 55 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote in 2018, giving the U.S. one of the lowest voter turnouts in the West (we rank 26th).

Two things could be done to help jump start this problem.

First, make the right to vote part of citizenship. No registration, simply a verified birth certificate or verified paperwork that a person has become a naturalized citizen. Until that could be put into place, have a citizenship verification when getting a drivers license. Many DMVs already have the paperwork to register to vote, so why duplicate. You want the privilege to drive in this country, then you should be added to the voter rolls.

Second, until the measures above are in place and successful, put more effort in encouraging voter registration. Online voting registration is available, but few seem to know it. More than a few high schools don't offer reminders to their graduating seniors that voting is one of the responsibilities of citizenship while providing information on how and were to register.

Voter registration booths at public events, and more are popping up locally, are also a good start. This is not a partisan issue, but one both parties should take seriously.

Voting matters. Choices we make at the polls matter. Elections are not simply about who we send to Washington or elect as president. Our local and state governments — governor, mayor, city council members, or your state senators and representatives, school board members — all can have a profound impact on the community. The decisions these elected officials make can quickly influence our daily lives.

This year, several of the county's municipalities are holding elections. The City of Belton will choose a mayor, and Council Wards 2,4,6; The Town of Pelzer will choose two town Council members; The Town of Honea Path will select a Mayor, and members of Council Wards 2,4,6; The Town of West Pelzer will vote for Mayor and Council (2 seats); and The Town of Pendleton will vote for Council Wards 2,4.

If you live in one of these towns and are not registered to vote in the Nov. 5 elections, you have until Oct. 5 to sign up.

Help is always available if you have questions. Anderson Office of Voter Registration and Elections have been recognized as on of the best in the state, and the staff there is top-notch. You can visit their website here, or call them at 864-260-4035. You can also drop by their office at 301 North Main Street for information or assistance.

You can also register online here. SCVotes.org also offers every voter information on the precinct they are to vote and what candidates, or other items which are on their ballot (a sample ballot is provided).

In Anderson County 130,872 of roughly 168,000 eligible citizens are register to vote, and that's good. But it also reflects that nearly on-fourth of those who could vote are not even registered.

Whether you wear a hat with an elephant or one with a donkey, this year is a good time to encourage friends and family to vote. If you aren't in one of the municipalities holding November elections this year, you have plenty of time to register and become informed on the process allowing you to vote for those candidates who best reflect you values.

As one who votes in every election, I've earned the right to evaluate, encourage, criticize and opine about the people who are running our community, schools, state and country.

And while I appreciate the challenge put forth to help us all return to civil discourse in this country, and I understand the Constitution's guaranteed right to free speech, if you are not going to even register to vote, I'm inclined to think you should just shut up.
Monday
Aug192019

A Back To School Homework Assignment for Parents

Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

For me it was Blue Horse notebooks, No. 2 pencils, a lunchbox and a new pair of P.F Flyers. After a week or so, I added a strap around a few school books, and arms full of library books. (Keep in mind Eisenhower was president when I was born). Total cost of back to school to my parents, including shoes and lunchbox, never reached much above $10.

Today it’s a long list of required supplies (which varies wildly by classroom and grade) signed paperwork from parents promising you won’t lose the assigned Chromebook, a thick stack of policy papers on everything from transportation to use of your school photo to who and where cell phones can be used. And of course, new shoes, many of which now cost more than most teachers made in a week back when I started school. 

My wife and I estimated the cost of our two kids back-to-school lists, not including clothing and shoes, was always well north of $200. The memory of what the clothing and shoes cost is just too painful to revisit.

But if you were out over the weekend, you witnessed it. Parents and children dragging themselves through department or office supply stores, neither looking very pleased with the process. 

Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun.  

And while the bells no longer sound out like a three-alarm alert at the local fire station, one thing remains the same: today kids across Anderson County will walk, ride or drive into a new school year.

Some will be going for the first time, dropped off by weeping moms/dads who knew the day would come but still aren’t prepared for the reality. If the kids were half as mushy as their parents, first grade teachers would be in real trouble. 

Others will be heading into their final year of public school, blissfully unaware that it might be the ending of some of the easiest days of their lives.

And while the dear old golden rule days may be gone -  and it’s good that the reading and writing and arithmetic (is that still a thing?) are no longer taught with the threat of a hickory stick, which certainly never curbed my behavior - it’s a good time to remember that the one constant is the factor over the years is that teachers still make a difference 

Yeah I recognize, it’s not always positive. We all remember our worst teachers. The ones who, for whatever reason, seem to have checked out when it came to connecting to students. Then and now, they make up a minority in ever school, getting on other teachers last nerve more than their most challenging students. 

But the overwhelming majority of men and women who have chosen to devote their entire working lives to educating children recognize their enormous responsibility and do their part to make the world a better place. 

The stories are literally endless which begin with “I don’t know where I’d be today without my (fill-in-the-grade) teacher.”  

I learned to read before Kindergarten, and my first grade teacher, Mrs. Hunnicutt (who had also been mother mother’s first grade teacher decades earlier), recognized how bored I was in class and allowed me to bring in library books to read when I was caught up or ahead of the class. My third grade teacher, Sue Medlock in her first year of teaching (the boys all had a crush on her), shared a short story I wrote with school librarian Edna Allen, who helped me get it published in a real magazine, giving me my first writer’s credit. There are other teachers I remember, a junior high teacher I won’t mention by name, one who accused me of plagiarizing a story she thought “too good to have been written by someone my age.” After she realized I had indeed written the story as one of her creative writing assignments, she also went the extra mile to help me get it published. 

There many others, scattered across high school, college and graduate school who encouraged, challenged and convinced me that formal education was not only not a waste of time, it was a fine-tuned pair of lens which helped me see the world in ways I might otherwise have missed. 

So today is a day to give thanks to the teachers who are facing rooms full of fresh (and not-so-fresh) faced youngsters today, and for those who’ve gone before them. 

Take a minute to thank one of your teachers, if they are still around to thank, or post a kind word on social media about them if not.

And for parents, it’s never too early to get to know your kids’ teachers, the ones who might be crucial factors in the future of their children. Meet with them, thank them for being a teacher, and offer your support for the year ahead. 

In all the political chatter about education, all the added paperwork that seems distant from any efficacy, and all after-school work in which teachers are often obliged to take part, one thing has not changed. Teachers still need encouragement to fulfill their calling. And that is your homework for today.

Monday
Aug192019

Columnist Finds Telling the Truth a Dangerous Path

Molly Conger/The Guardian

When the editor of a weekly paper approached me about writing a regular column about local politics, the first thing I asked her was: “Are you sure you know what you’d be getting yourself into?”

That was February. I’d been live-tweeting Charlottesville city government meetings for a year and a half, ever since the deadly Unite the Right rally in August 2017. Entirely by accident, I had created a fairly large audience for what amounted to municipal meeting minutes narrated by a mouthy socialist.

Though I’d never written for a publication before, my concern wasn’t whether I could produce readable content. It was whether the paper was prepared to be targeted by two primary detractors of my work: neo-liberals and neo-Nazis.

I wrote just six pieces before the column was canceled. Two centered on the need for police accountability in a city traumatized by the memory of officers standing by as neo-Nazis beat residents in the streets. 

I’m not surprised a police officer and a former prosecutor would try to weaponize the legal system to silence a critic

In a column published in May, I mentioned a photograph taken in August 2017 of an officer with his arms around James Napier, of the neo-Confederate group the Highwaymen, and Tammy Lee of the American Freedom Keepers militia. Lee’s caption read: “You should know the police escorted us and worked days with us 2b there.”

My intention was to highlight both the lack of accountability of the department as a whole for its conduct during Charlottesville’s Summer of Hate and the degree to which it had disregarded the community’s concerns about rally attendees. At no point did I allege that the individual officer had personal ties to the people with whom he was pictured.

The image of a Charlottesville officer with his arm around a member of a white supremacist militia was to me a perfect illustration of a department choosing to ignore the community it serves. It was a picture of wilful ignorance and complicity, of harm through inaction. The officer could have been any member of his department.

I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when I received a letter from the attorney for the local Southern States Police Benevolent Association, sent on behalf of the officer in the picture. One of the remarks the letter quoted and claimed to be “odious” and defamatory was taken directly from the after action report, commissioned by the city, about police conduct that summer. I have not reached out to the attorney who prepared that report. I doubt he received a similar letter.

I am surprised the paper’s owners reacted with such incredible cowardice

I read the letter. I spoke to an attorney. I spoke to another. I retained one. But I wasn’t worried. Even with my layman’s eyes, I could see right through what was clearly an empty threat. There is a certain class of citizen for whom hurt feelings are the worst form of assault and the best redress is a demand for an apology on legal letterhead. Naively, I assumed the paper was as committed to unashamed truth-telling as I was and that it too would take the letter in stride.

It did not.

I’m not surprised a police officer and a former prosecutor would try to weaponize the legal system to silence a critic. I am surprised the paper’s owners reacted with such incredible cowardice. What good is journalism that folds when confronted by those in power? How can we trust local media that allows the police union to dictate what is published about the police?

Despite the editor’s best efforts on my behalf and the absence of any followthrough on the threat of a defamation suit, the paper’s owners did not want to continue to run my column. The attorney for the police union got exactly what she wanted: the paper fired the person who wouldn’t stop publicly advocating for a strong civilian review board, a nascent body whose failure would benefit the attorney’s clients.

I have spent two years carving out a strange, precarious little niche as a local journalist. I crowdfund most of my income and spend my days attending city board and commission meetings or sitting in court. I document both the ongoing legal fallout of the day in 2017 that made my city’s name synonymous with white supremacist violence and the day-to-day banalities of the local government that created the conditions that allowed it to happen.

I get so many death threats I can catalog them by the gunmaker mentioned. I babysit to make rent. But I write for and about a community I love and believe in and to which I feel accountable. And if I had my short time with a paper byline again, I wouldn’t pull my punches.

Tuesday
May142019

Opinion: Council Wise to Include Vehicle Fee in Budget 

Anderson Observer Commentary

Once again, there’s a big economic pothole facing Anderson County, one which is getting deeper every year. 

In spite of the state lawmakers pledge to do something about the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges, their efforts have done nothing to smooth out the 1,535 miles of county roads in Anderson or the 163 bridges for which the county is responsible. We cannot count on the state to sufficiently maintain state roads, much less our county roads. 

Progress has been made, and the Assistant Anderson County Adminstrator Holt Hopkins as his road crews are paving as many roads as funds permit. But the currently level of funding remains so far behind the need continues to grow to find a sustainable source of revenue for maining our roads and bridges.

Currently, to maintain all roads/bridges infrastructure in the county would require more than $8 million per year. Sadly, a sustainable funding source for our roads and bridges is not in sight. County council has pieced together a variety of temporary funding sources, but years of neglect requires more than some paving and putting band aids on many of our our pocked, crumbling roads.

Meanwhile, Anderson County’s population is booming. The population has nearly doubled since 1970, and has grown by nearly 35,000 since 2000. The 2020 Census preliminary numbers suggest the population now tops 200,000. 

This growth has created an accelerated demand for services, but an increase in taxes and fees have not kept pace with the population growth to provide for the growing population. The county’s base millage rate remains among the lowest in the state, and council has been prudent in leading the county out of the 2008 economic downturn by keeping property taxes down. 

When county council meets Tuesday night, as part of the FY 2019-2020 budget, it will consider a $25-per-vehicle fee. The $25 will be used to repair roads. It is the perfect time to consider a vehicle fee in Anderson County and help pave the way for our future.

The fee would include a  one-mil-tax reduction offsetting the cost for most taxpayers in Anderson County.

Currently 27 counties in South Carolina have vehicle fees. Horry County has the highest fees at $50 per year, while Abbeville County boasts the lowest - and oddest - at $13.99. The statewide average is roughly $24 per year per vehicle. 

I have talked to leadership in almost all of Anderson’s charitable organizations, and most agreed that even the working poor and those on fixed incomes could absorb such modest fees if it meant better roads. 

A number of national studies also suggest that well-maintained roads more than offset the cost of vehicle fees in savings on tires and other mechanical repairs. 

So there is little reason not to act now, and council is to be commended for taking this big step to improve the county's infrastructure.

If Anderson County approved the $25 annual vehicle fee, with a provision that the money can never be used for any purpose other than road and bridge maintenance and repair, it would generate more than $5.3 million annually. The math works out to just over $2 per month for the owner of a vehicle.

Essentially, the fee means that every owner of a vehicle - those who use the roads - would be providing a sustainable source of funding Anderson County roads and bridges at a cost of pennies per day both for today and for the future. 

There are those who protest any increase in taxes and fees, no matter the efficacy of the financial decision.

Such protests are just short of silly. Any Anderson County citizen who can afford a vehicle is should recognize fuding county roads is likely to save them more than the annual fee in tires and alignement costs. 

Anderson County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. Wages are up, new jobs are everywhere and more on the way. The county has more international investment than any other in South Carolina, with more than 51 companies representing 23 nations calling Anderson home. 

The new Arthrex facility in Sandy Springs and continued growth of TTI and Michelin, have kept Anderson at the forefront in economic development, in spite of our roads. But quality of life and other issues, which are crucial to economic development, include such things as maintence of our transportation pathways. Anderson cannot afford to forever allow our roads funding to lag and struggle and play catch up just to patch and repair and expect outside investment to continue to grow.

But that is exactly what could happen if a sustainable funding source is not found soon. 

Council has shown great wisdom in moving forward on paving the way to a bright future by making the vehicle fee a part of the FY budget now being hammered out. The next meeting is Tuesday night, and the public is always invlted, but you can contact your council representative anytime here.

Sunday
May122019

Schools Already Know How to Avoid Lunch Money Shaming

Thursday
May092019

Hospitality Tax Would Help Council in Budgeting for FY 2019-20

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

It's time for another reminder of the county to revist one of its greatest needs, and it's up to citizens to contact their representative and demand new consideration for a two-percent hospitality tax in unincorporated ares of Anderson County.

A hospitality tax in the unicorporated areas continues to be long overdue. It's been close to passing council on two occasions, only to fail at the last minute. Then the measure was put to an ill-advised and ill-fated "advisory referendum" in November, which though non-binding has kept the issue off council's agenda. But as Anderson County Council looks to a new budget year, funding for parks and recreation remain elusive without the tax.

Reasons for the opposition continues to be vague and generally obfuscate the facts surrounding what the hospitality tax is and how it will be used.

In 2018, Spartanburg County’s two percent hospitality tax generated $4.7 million for recreation and tourism. In the City of Anderson, the tax put almost $2.5 million on the books. 

Meanwhile, Anderson County’s unincorporated areas, which include, month other areas, the restaurants at Exit 19 off I-85 and Powdersville are without the tax, even almost of the county’s municipalities and townships already have the tax in place and are reaping the benefits.

This two-percent hospitality tax on prepared food sold in those unincorporated areas of Anderson County would generate more than $3 million per year for recreation and tourism.

Here, once again, are the facts:

On social media and elsewhere, the issue is being clouded by both misunderstanding and misinformation on the funds and how they can be used. 

Funds cannot be used for roads (with exceptions), schools or other infrastructure (not related to tourism/recreation) needs in the county. State law restricts use of such funds to recreation opportunities and facilities.

Here’s the South Carolina statute on how the funds may be used: 

“The revenue generated by the hospitality tax must be used exclusively for the following purposes:

(1) tourism-related buildings including, but not limited to, civic centers, coliseums, and aquariums;

(2) tourism-related cultural, recreational, or historic facilities;

(3) beach access and renourishment;

(4) highways, roads, streets, and bridges providing access to tourist destinations;

(5) advertisements and promotions related to tourism development; or

(6) water and sewer infrastructure to serve tourism-related demand. 

A master plan for recreation created 10 years ago, found that $10 million was needed to upgrade the 37 parks the county helps maintain. (The number of active parks is really smaller, with some parks such as Morningside Park shut down, a few being little more than small boat ramps and others lying in wait of funding) Sadly, the study came out just as the national economy took a severe downturn, and no money was available to act on the study. The 2018 study did no include Green Pond Landing or most of the work done at the Brown Road Boat Ramp/Fishing Dock. 

Opposition to tax has been primarily expressed in the following ways:

  • “Recreation in the county should be left to the private sector.” None of our neighboring counties see it that way, and neither do the companies from around the world looking for a place to locate or relocate - something essential to Anderson County since we have more international business than any other county in the state, 51 firms from 23 countries have brought good, high-paying jobs, helping us survive and pull out of the Depression of 2008. Even domestic companies rate recreation activities as very high on their punch list when choosing a location. 
  • “We want to know exactly how the money is going to be spent before we vote for the tax.” The study currently under way will answer this objection.
  • “We need to more funds roads, schools, etc.” The bulk of all county tax payer dollars goes to schools already. There is a great need for money for roads, but hospitality tax revenue cannot be used for this unless it is paving roads directly related to recreation and tourism (there will be some of these). A countywide annual $25 vehicle tax has been repeated proposed to pay for road maintenance and construction, one which would completely cover the costs. That is not part of this discussion.
  • “We should review what we are already spending on recreation and tourism and find ways to fund everything.” That review has been done, and short of raising money through taxation of landowners, the funds are simply not there. Moving them around won’t solve the deficit. 
  • “We already pay too much in taxes.” This is an emotional response lacking substance based on the facts. County taxes have seen almost no increase for taxpayers over the past 10 years due to substantial success by the county’s department of economic development, the administrator and county council.

Misinformation, due to lack of education on the topic (a fact sheet should have already been released officially by Anderson County explaining much of what is being explained here), is also still floating around from the last attempt to pass the hospitality tax in 2016.  

The tax will not:

  • Raise rates to four percent anywhere. It will not be added to the two percent already being charged in most incorporated areas, but will only be in effect in places not already covered by the tax. The move would simply put the unincorporated areas of the county in line with all other restaurants. 
  • Be some sort of slush fund for council. This is ludicrous. The tax has been discussed for years in open council meetings, and the current proposal complies with all laws and rules, with complete transparency, voted upon in open meetings.
  • Negatively mpact business in local restaurants. None of the restaurants which I talked to, more than two dozen at last count, which already have the hospitality tax have seen any decline in business.  Hamid Mohsseni, who owns both Carson’s Steakhouse and Tucker’s - one of which is in the city and one in the county’s unincorporated areas even though their parking lots are adjacent - said in 2016 he hasn’t seen any difference in business between the two, even though one currently has the tax and the other does not.
  • Be a burden on those with fixed incomes. Any argument saying the tax would be a burden on consumers is a little silly. It is hard to imagine anyone who can afford to dine out being unable to pay an extra two cents on every dollar spent on food. A $50 bill would bring an extra charge of only $1. In addition, more than half of the areas impacted by the new tax are places frequented largely by those who don’t live in the county. (see below for more on this information).

Why we need a hospitality tax in unincorporated areas of Anderson. County:

Anderson is already behind our neighboring counties in our approach to recreation, and it is time to catch up. The county’s recreation is currently largely the efforts of 18 non-profit groups in Anderson. The county does have facilities, the civic center, for example. But it is these local groups which fill the fields with sporting events and tournaments, putting us well behind Greenville and Spartanburg, which fund recreation through a combination of general revenue from property taxes and hospitality taxes. 

The civic center would be one of the biggest winners of the hospitality tax, but the funds generated will save property owners money long-term. Why? Because as the civic center ages and the population grows, the facilities there are going to require funding, and that money will have to come from either raising taxes on property owners or the proposed hospitality tax. I vote for the money to be generated through two cents on the dollar spent eating out rather than by raising taxes, especially when more than 60 percent of the revenue is being paid by visitors to this county. A 2010 study counting out-of-state license plates at Cracker Barrel at Exit 19 found that 72 percent of the cars entering the parking lot were from someplace other than South Carolina. A recent count at Outback on a Saturday night found that 50 percent of the cars in the parking lot were from states other than South Carolina. While this kind of study is not worthy of academic review, owners of many of the restaurants near the interstate suggest many of their customers are from other states. No matter the exact number, a significant amount of funding for recreation and tourism in Anderson County would be paid for by visitors under the hospitality tax. 

The hospitality tax is about economic development. The hospitality tax is really about economic development. Without a vision for the future of recreation in the county, there will be trouble ahead attracting the kind of new investment we want here. Hartwell Lake is an amazing resource, but one the county has only managed to take advantage in any meaningful way through federal settlement money. Green Pond’s Phase One has been a good start, but there is more to be done, and no money to do it. Roughly 90 percent of the work at Green Pond to date has been through PCB settlement money and grants. Many of our parks are in poor shape, and only three are Americans with Disabilities Act compliant (which is now law, not a suggestion). It cannot be denied that both Greenville and Spartanburg counties are aggressively marketing their recreation opportunities in economic development, especially to international firms. Two pennies on the dollar dining out could completely revolutionize our ability to compete. In less than a decade we could make our recreation and tourism opportunities a talking point, and not a sore spot, when it comes to recruiting new industry and bringing more good jobs to Anderson County.  

Local recreation needs are growing. The Powdersville area, like the county as a whole, has grown exponentially, too rapidly to keep up with the needs of the population in many areas - including recreation. As an unincorporated area, they have no other way to generate revenue. These residents deserve better, as do all the residents of Anderson County when it comes to improving and continuing to improve the quality of life here. Recreation is a key component of this quality of life. As growth continues, a hospitality tax will likely generate far more than $3 million, well above the county’s very conservative estimates, based on how much per capita the hospitality tax has generated for municipalities and townships in the other parts of the county. If there is a flaw in the county’s proposal, it’s that they are underestimating how much this new hospitality tax can accomplish both immediately and in the future. 

There are no downsides to a hospitality tax for Anderson County’s unincorporated areas. It is a crucial move for the future of economic development and for the quality of life of our citizens.

Many of the same opponents to this tax opposed the East-West Parkway, something most of them probably use every day. Anderson has a long history of missing or delaying progress due to lack of visionary leadership who thinks beyond the current fiscal quarter and seeks the path of long term financial and other investments/benefits for our citizens. The hospitality tax offers a way to help fund this future without adding to the tax burden of property owners.  

Economic development, an improved quality of life for all citizens and keeping property taxes in check; all point to the wisdom of approving the hospitality tax for unincorporated areas of Anderson County ballot in November. 

Unless those who oppose this tax can put forth a specific plan to accomplish the same goals, and so far no one has, all the meetings and opinions in the county expressing opposition are not worth much.

Saturday
Apr132019

Have Something to Say? Tell Us About It.

Are you interested in being published in the Anderson Observer? Great! We accept submissions, but we ask you to read (carefully) a few simple guidelines before you send us your pitch.

1. Choose your subject wisely.

We are happy to hear ideas from anyone on any topic, but remember that you’re submitting to an Anderson newspaper, so the topics should be of direct importance to a large number of Andersonians.

2. Put the topic of your opinion piece in the subject line of an email.

Send to commentisfree@andersonobserver.com

In the body of the email, please offer specifics about your idea. It’s much easier for our editors to discover timely and important submissions if the topic is the first thing we see. 

3. Briefly explain who you are.

We don’t want your resume, but – especially if you’re not a full-time writer, which is perfectly fine – it’s helpful to know why you have the specific expertise or experience to write about your subject. We are committed to showcasing a range of issues, stories and voices on the Observer; it’s just difficult to get to know you from an email address. (You must disclose any conflict of interest, financial or otherwise. If any individual or group with an interest in the topic you are pitching has compensated you, tell us.)

4. Be concise and specific in your pitch.

We’re usually looking for 600-800 word opinion pieces that are traditional persuasive pieces (i.e., it has a thesis, supporting evidence and conclusion) or first-person stories tied to a news topic. Either should mean that you can easily summarize what you’d like to write (preferably with links) in about 3-5 sentences. But please don’t just send us completed pieces, as we will have less time to review them in full; we would much rather work with you to shape a good pitch into a great piece than have a good idea arrive, pre-written, in a way that doesn’t quite fit.

Please note all pieces are subject to editing and review by our editorial staff, and we cannot publish pieces that do not meet our editorial standards. 

Thursday
Jan312019

Raising Bar Critical for Education Reform in S.C.

By Thomas A. Wilson/Superintendent, Anderson School District Five

When Speaker of the House Jay Lucas rolled out his 84-page education reform proposal last week, various Dr. Tom Wilsoneducators, politicians, advocacy groups and other stakeholders latched onto a few key proposals. Raising teacher pay, focusing on reading on grade level by third grade, and offering free post-secondary education to children of teachers in unsatisfactory ranked schools all received publicity in various news outlets across the state. All of these proposed changes, and more, deserve to be touted as movement in the right direction.

South Carolina must increase teacher pay to compete with other states and other sectors of the workforce if we want to recruit and retain highly qualified educators. We also must do everything possible to lower the ridiculous amount of testing we require, and the amount of burdensome paperwork teachers are forced to complete. Speaker Lucas and the General Assembly are making strides in the right direction, and Anderson County is lucky to have a strong legislative delegation fighting for our students and teachers in Columbia.

The item I was thrilled to see highlighted, and that has not gained much traction in the media at this time, is just one small sentence on page 71 of the proposal. Section 46, line 32 reads “Beginning with students entering ninth grade in the 2020-2021 School Year, a local board of trustees may require additional units of credit for a high school diploma.” In essence, this one line of legislation would allow school districts in South Carolina to make a substantial leap forward in academic achievement by letting communities decide to raise the number of courses needed to graduate from high school.

In Anderson Five, this could return a sense of relevancy to the senior year of high school at T.L. Hanna and Westside. Instead of what many consider a “wasted” year, where a large percentage of our students do not take an upper level math or science course or have a course load only filled with electives, we could instead provide a better balanced high school experience for our students.

For example, increasing our required units for graduation from 24 units to 28 units would not only allow for increased academic opportunities, it would also allow for a greater and more in-depth exploration of subjects such as foreign languages, music, and career and technology courses by adding to the number of required electives. 

Twenty years ago when he ran for President, George W. Bush spoke about the bigotry of low expectations, and he stated that no child in America should be segregated by these low expectations. Requiring only 24 units for graduation at our high schools shortchanges our students, and sets a bar that is far too low for their educational capacity. In Anderson Five and numerous other high schools around the state with block scheduling, students can currently take 8 units a year, allowing them the space for 32 units over their time in high school. This essentially means that to graduate high school they only need to pass 75% of their courses.

Our students are capable of much more than the current low expectations set by the state, and I believe that students across South Carolina are ready and eager to show that they can academically compete with their peers from across the country. Raising the bar for graduation is a great step in the right direction, and is something that has the potential to elevate how our education system is viewed by parents, teachers, students and employers. I know that our students can rise up if greater rigor is coupled with greater relevancy, and I applaud Speaker Lucas and the General Assembly for recommending these changes to help increase the value of a South Carolina education.