EASLEY – “The State of Easley is… pretty good,” said Mayor Larry Bagwell. “Actually it is great if compared to other parts of the state.”
Bagwell made his annual address before members of the Greater Easley Chamber of Commerce today at a luncheon at Dunburks in downtown.
According to the mayor, the state of Easley leans heavily on development of the city’s identity as a destination for team recreational level sports, despite growing demands coming out of South Carolina state offices that lack financial support.
In addition to being the driving force behind getting Easley on ESPN cable stations for the 12 years of the summertime Big League World Series, the Easley Recreation Department is a major source of the $1.4 million in annual hospitality tax revenue.
“The good thing about that is that is that most of the money comes from people outside of Easley,” said the mayor.
The hospitality tax comes from sales of restaurant meals, lodgings and bar tabs.
The week of the annual Big League World Series is responsible for about $700,000, the mayor said.
Other tournaments that come to town to use the J.B. “Red” Owens Recreational complex make up the rest. Those include hundreds of families that come to Easley for weekend and week long tournaments of softball, soccer and basketball.
Negotiations are underway to bring a volleyball tournament to the complex, according the City Councilwoman Kim Valentin.
Up to 50 percent of the $1.4 million can go into the city’s general fund annual, the mayor said.
“We usually use it to pay for special projects,” Bagwell said.
One of those recently was a leaf collection truck.
“We don’t have much industry,” the mayor said. “If we have industry, it is recreation.”
Hospitality tax is one source of funding that avoids increasing property taxes.
Another, acknowledged by the mayor, is a franchise fee that goes to the city for utility sales.
The mayor warned that in April, customers of the Easley Combined Utilities will see a 1.6 percent increase that will go to the city government.
Many utility customers will be unaware that they have been paying 3.4 percent in a franchise few for several years, according to the mayor. That amount increases in April by 1.6 percent, bring the total allowed under state law to 5 percent.
The additional 1.6 percent will raise about $500,000, according to Bagwell.
That is part of what keeps property taxes relatively low in the city.
For $150,000 home, owners will pay $132 in city taxes, said City Administrator Fox Simons.
“That is $132 annually for trash collection, police protection, fire protection and other services,” Simons said. “In the county you’d pay $30 a month just for trash collection. That is $360 per year for trash collection compared to $132 for everything (offered by the city). That is a helluva deal. Pardon my French. You won’t find that anywhere.”
The mayor and Simons pointed out that, since 2010, the city has been a donor city, sending more revenue to the State of South Carolina than it gets back.
In 2012 the city sent $190,000 more to the state than it got back.