Voters miss chance to have say on TCTC

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

PICKENS COUNTY —The longstanding argument about Tri-County Technical College facilities nearly took a new twist Monday night.

The debate has been over Pickens County’s responsibilities regarding funding facilities at the college. Officials with the college have repeatedly asked that Pickens County join in the funding efforts for a new student center and other improvements.

Pickens County Council members have maintained that the county’s responsibilities lie in operations and maintenance at the college — and that new facilities don’t fall under those categories.

During Monday night’s county council meeting, Councilman Neil Smith proposed putting the question to the voters. He made a motion that would have placed the question on November ballots in the form of a referendum.

“‘Do you support spending $6.75 million of the county’s funds for Tri-County’s student center?’” Smith asked.

Smith said the referendum would not be binding, but would be a way for council to determine the public’s desire for the Tri-County Tech project.

He said the issue was prioritization.

“We’ve had various requests on the jail, Tri-County and all this other,” Smith said.

There have been requests, including from the Conservatives of the Upstate organization, to have the jail funding issue placed on the ballot, after an earlier vote was made to ensure $23 million would be available for a jail facility if needed. But Smith said county officials’ hands are tied when it comes to the jail.

“If we don’t do the jail, then the state comes and fines us and says ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Smith said. “So there’s no way that we can get out of our obligation with the jail.”

Overcrowding at the current facility has become a pressing issue. The facility often holds far more inmates than it was designed to. The county and the sheriff’s office were named in a lawsuit filed by a former inmate who was attacked by fellow inmates in April. The lawsuit alleges that conditions, including overcrowding, at the facility allowed the attack to occur.

He said the county has “way too much stuff on our list of stuff that we’re supposed to fund” and not enough available funds to tackle them all.

He said the Tri-County issue factored in the recent primary elections.

“We’ve heard there’s a mandate — the community wants it,” Smith said. “This is an opportunity for them to show support or lack of support on the whole issue. That’s the reason I’m supporting this one, versus asking the same question on the jail. It doesn’t matter what we do on the jail — the state’s going to force us to do it.”

After Smith’s proposal, county attorney Ken Roper asked if the issue could be discussed in executive session, saying he had more information to give council on the matter.

That information was regarding timing — Smith’s motion came hours too late. The state election commission’s deadline for new ballot referendums was noon on Monday.

During the meeting, council voted unanimously to authorize going forward with the design, bid and building process for a new detention center. Councilman Tom Ponder was absent.

Council Chairman Jennifer Willis said the resolution authorizing the design process gives the council more information “to figure out what our alternatives are and how we move (forward)” regarding the new facility.