Polk commissioners hear reports of declining revenue

Published 2:57 pm Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Highlights Tuesday included that the Register of Deeds Office reported a revenue stream cut about in half from 2007 to 2008, mainly due to a decrease in growth and plats recorded.&bsp; Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson named the possible need for a replacement ambulance for the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department along with several other needs named by Senior Supervisor Michael Crater, especially if a change in regulation occurs. Several departments said new positions were needed and some reported a need for more storage areas.

Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill said with the bad economy, the sheriff&squo;s office is currently swamped with child support offenders. He said in the future,&bsp; the jail may need more than 26 beds and a recreation area outside for inmates, and the county may need to look at a facility large enough to house female inmates.

Recreation Director Patty Aldred said her department needs a third employee and soccer fields. The county&squo;s soccer programs continue to grow and Polk has no soccer fields of its own.

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Other ideas during the meeting included uses for the land surrounding the proposed senior center building which used to house Carolina Classical School. Aldred said the area would be perfect for soccer fields and cooperative extension director John Vining suggested community gardens and equine forage research plots.

Some interesting recent occurrences in departments included that the tax office on Monday, the the taxes due deadline, collected $938,286.

Tax assessor John Bridgers said he discovered that 32 people own airplanes in the county, but taxes were recorded as paid on only two airplanes prior to the discovery.

Another fact commissioners learned Tuesday was that even with a new senior center planned for the former Carolina Classical School, participants in the Green Creek and Saluda senior centers wish to remain in those locations.

Commissioners were given a book including all departments presentations. Following is a short summary of each of those presentations:

Veteran affairs

Veteran Service Officer Darrel Moore said he&squo;s been in the position for 3.5 years and provides accurate information, guidance and assistance to all veterans and their families regarding VA and state regulations pertaining to veteran benefits. Moore works three days per week out of the Jervey Palmer building in Tryon. His only future needs may be a copier once the Meeting Place vacates the building. There are currently 2,682 veterans in Polk County.

Agricultural economic development

Agricultural Economic Development Director Lynn Sprague began his presentation by saying it was not critical for the land transfer tax referendum did not pass last year. It would have been helpful, he said, but there are options out there for farmland preservation. Sprague said there is a need for additional employees, but he is considering using interns who will not cost the county money.


Polk County Recreation Director Patty Aldred said there has been an increase in basketball teams this year with the program now at 40 teams in grades 1 through 12 and her future needs are a third employee and soccer fields. The third employee could head the summer day camp, which has space for 75 students. The soccer program continues to grow, with about 280 players each for the fall and spring seasons.

Economic development

Polk County Economic Development Director Kipp McIntyre said Polk County did not participate in economic development for about 10 years prior to his appointment. McIntyre said his office now partners with the N.C. Department of Commerce, Advantage West Economic Development, Isothermal Planning and Development, Isothermal Community College, Chamber Serving the Carolina Foothills and local businesses and organizations. McIntyre said he&squo;d like to hold more work sessions with other departments who share issues and with commissioners.

Soil & water

Lynn Sprague, speaking for the soil and water district, said nine years ago the state had Polk County on a list of 12 &dquo;dead&dquo; districts, but the district has turned around tremendously since then. Sprague mentioned that the district is now doing what a conservation district should and has received much funding for county projects. Polk&squo;s district is made up of administrator Sandra Reid, technician Stuart Walker and conservationist Gerald Harbinson, with much of those salaries paid for by the state and federal governments.

Sprague also mentioned the district&squo;s wish that Chocolate Drop would donate their property on the upper portion to be put in conservation easements. Nothing should be built up there, Sprague said, because the area is a landslide hazard. If the land were placed in conservation, the county could go up there and replant and stabilize the area, Sprague said.


Polk County Planner Cathy Ruth said fees her department has collected recently have gone down because of the poor economy and the county&squo;s implementation of a seven acre minimum. The planning department&squo;s fees collected have dropped tremendously over the past few years with the office collecting $37,710 in 2006, $26,402 in 2007 and just $8,140 in 2008.


Maintenance director Mickey Edwards named a few problems his department has encountered such as fixing a boiler at the jail recently at a cost of about $5,000. The maintenance department works in many areas, including carpentry, electrical, plumbing, heating and air, painting, grounds maintenance and sports fields. Edwards said the maintenance department is responsible for almost 30 acres of grounds. Manager Whitson said upcoming needs are a trailer for a new mower and possibly a new truck for the department.


Communications Director Diane Rickman said calls in her department continue to increase. Actual dispatched calls were up to 24,067 in the year 2008 compared to 22,355 in 2007 and 17,564 in 2006. Rickman said more personnel is needed to cover the 24-7 shifts. The department currently staffs eight full-time personnel, Rickman and one part-time position.

Travel & tourism

Travel and tourism director Melinda Young said her department could use a larger operating budget, especially for advertising, following an 11 percent cut this year. She said one problem is that people coming to Polk&squo;s many events stay in Spartanburg due to the lack of hotels in the area. She said many people don&squo;t want to stay in a bed and breakfast or have children, which many bed and breakfasts don&squo;t allow. Young said developers are currently working with Columbus to bring a hotel behind Wendy&squo;s and CVS, but those plans have not yet been worked out.

Emergency medical services

Senior Supervisor Michael Crater listed many needs in his department, including 12 Lead EKG transmission on every ambulance, capnography waveform ($92,000), PDA cell phones on every ambulance ($800), two replacement stretchers ($21,000), four AED replacements ($6,400) and replacement heating and cooling unit for main building ($15,000 to $20,000).&bsp; Whitson mentioned his main concern is the possible need to replace another ambulance as a 2002 model has 103,900 miles on it. The costs of a replacement chasis is approximately $70,000. Other needs include a part or full-time position and a generator at Polk County Middle School.

The Meeting Place

Meeting Place Director Pam Doty says between the Meeting Place I (in Tryon), Meeting Place II (in Green Creek) and the Saluda Senior Center the county serves 2,000 meals to seniors per month. Doty named many programs the centers currently offer and said she is excited to have a new home soon with the county&squo;s recent agreement to purchase the former Carolina Classical School for a new senior center.

Transfer station

Solid waste director Neil Hall thanked commissioners for his new facility and said his department could use another yard truck. The county recently purchased a yard truck for $4,000 after spending about $600 per month to rent one. Hall said the quality of recycling materials is the best it&39;s ever been thanks to new recycling attendants, but the county may have to prepare to pay more to recycle due to the recycling market, like all segments of our economy, experiencing a significant slow down.

Tax collector

Tax collector Melissa Bowlin said the county&squo;s current tax collection rate is about one percent below last year&squo;s, but that is mainly due to having more to collect this year and some due to the bad economy. Bowlin said she&squo;d like to revamp the department&squo;s website and the county is doing well with the new option of paying taxes by credit card.

Tax assessor

Tax assessor John Bridgers said his future needs are office furniture, personal/business personal abstracts, online tax cards and business audits. Bridgers said he would like to keep a full-time temporary employee hired to help during the county&squo;s 2009 revaluation process.

Community development

Building inspector Steve Jones said permits issued have dropped from 717 in 2007 to 537 in 2008. Construction values and inspections have also dropped significantly. Jones said one of his inspectors recently resigned and he is freezing that position until the spring to see what the market is going to do.


Library Director Mark Pumphrey said he has been asked to open the library more hours, especially offering hours on Mondays, but it will take two full-time positions to do so. He also requested to have previously frozen funds released for a bigger operating budget, a better sign outside the new facility and more storage. More than 14,000 library cards have been issued in Polk County.

Cooperative extension

Polk County&squo;s Cooperative Extension consists of agriculture, 4-H, family and consumer and community development. Director John Vining said the county pays 40 percent of salaries and the state pays 60 percent. Vining named ideas for the Carolina Classical School acreage, including community gardens and the county operating an equine forage research plots for hay.


Polk County Transportation Director Jewell Carswell said in 2008 her department made 50,385 passenger trips and travelled 386,082 service miles. Carswell said in the future the county may need to look at storage space since the department is located in the annex buildings and has a small kitchen used for storage along with the former Columbus fire house that will be the House of Flags. Parking is also an issue, Carswell said, with the state wanting transportation departments to have lighted and fenced parking areas.

Information systems

Information systems director Marche Pittman said his future needs are replacement of computer workstation on a four to five year replacement schedule, a server replacement and a website update. He also said different technologies are currently being researched for the 911 communications project and new technology could mean costs will be lower than originally anticipated.

Board of elections

Board of Elections director Dale Edwards reviewed the latest election and several grants her department received this year. Edwards said with three location sites for early voting the county was able to vote 52 percent of its registered voters early, which made election day run more smoothly. Edwards also said her office was able to scan every voter registration card into the computer system and at one time Polk was the only county in the state to accomplish that.

Register of deeds

Register of Deeds Sheila Whitmire said her staff is currently working on a long project to scan all vital records into the computer. The project will take about two years, she expects, but will all be done inhouse. Whitmire also noted a major decrease in fee revenue, mainly because of a decrease in plat recordings. The department has seen an almost $700,000 decrease in revenues between deposits and excise tax collected from 2007 to 2008.

Sheriff&squo;s office/Jail/Animal control

Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill said one need in animal control is to have a temporary confinement area for animals, especially on weekends when the animals cannot be dropped at at the Foothills Humane Society. He also said a part-time or full-time officer may be needed in the busy spring and summer months to add to the department&squo;s one officer. The jail does not meet state standards for housing male and female inmates. Needs in the jail included the possibility of more beds, the ability to house females and a recreation area for inmates. With increased growth and crime, the sheriff&39;s office may also need to look at more deputies as one deputy covers almost 80 square miles. Hill said he&squo;d like to employ a full-time Crime Prevention Officer and also would like to look at more fuel efficient vehicles for non-patrol personnel.

Department of social services

The department of social services has seen increases in many areas with some reports doubling over the past five years. Director Sue Rhodes said adult service reports have doubled with the department serving about 110 adults through its various programs. Child welfare services have seen mostly increases with the department serving about 250 children per month. Child protective services has seen an eight percent increase and foster care has seen an eight percent increase, but foster homes have seen a 34 percent decrease. Adoption assistance has seen a 31 percent increase. Other increases lately have been in food stamp applications with a 176 percent increase and Medicaid applications with a 50.5 percent increase.