Sumter County Council's Feb. 13 meeting

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Sumter County Council Tuesday evening during its regular meeting passed second reading on an ordinance regarding real estate signs, passed third reading on a budget amendment, and passed first reading on a new special tax district.

City-County Planning Director George McGregor told council that the real estate sign changes effect three types: commercial project signs, individual residential lots under construction signs and residential subdivisions.

“They essentially give more square footage for those signs and they will mimic the city zoning ordinance,” he said.

No one spoke for or against the ordinance during the public hearing and second reading passed.

Sumter County Administrator Gary Mixon spoke about a budget amendment ordinance that would amend the current budget to allow two additional purchases, he said. The first would be $500,000 from the Hospitality Fund to support a new veterans park adjacent to Shaw Air Force Base. This project would be done in partnership with the City of Sumter, which is in the process of providing $500,000, he said, and the state of South Carolina would put in $200,000.

“We’re extremely excited about it,” he said, as there’s a goal of having a groundbreaking ceremony close to Memorial Day. The main feature would be a replica of a Mustang P-51, the fighter plane flown by the legendary Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.

The second request for $281,000 would fund automated spillway gates to be installed on Second Mill Pond as the dam is currently being repaired.

“We believe that this is primarily for safety and security reasons,” he said, as the new gates would preclude a county employee using a manual crank while potentially being in harm’s way during a flood event.

No one spoke for or against the ordinance during the public hearing and third reading passed.

County Attorney Johnathan Bryan spoke about first reading to establish a special tax district to be known as the ‘Boyle’s Pond Special Tax District.’

The historic 1,000-year flood in 2015 broke the dam at Boyle’s Pond, he said, and the people who live around it want to rebuild the dam and reclaim the pond. They’re doing it on their own, he explained, and it’s going to cost them $650,000, or $29,572 assessed for each of the 22 lots around the pond, which they will spread out over 30 years. Sumter County’s role is to put the special assessment on each of the tax bills for the 22 lots, he said.

“It’s just a means of collecting that assessment,” he said, as the money collected would go back to the Boyle’s Pond Homeowners Association, which would then pay the Small Business Administration for the loan of $650,000. “Sumter County is not obligated on the loan. We’re not even obligated to pay the money to the SBA.”

Sumter County is just providing a vehicle to collect the money, Bryan said.

Councilman Charles T. Edens asked about what happens if taxpayers don’t pay the bill. Bryan said in the memorandum of understanding, the Sumter County Treasurer would pay to the HOA the money that is collected.

“We aren’t tied to an amount annually to have to send the homeowner’s association?,” Edens asked, and Bryan agreed.

It’s up the homeowner’s association to repay the loan, Bryan added.

First reading passed.

Edens reported to council on a Land Use Committee meeting, noting that no action was taken but that as chairman of that committee, Edens said he’ll discuss with the City-County Planning Department some issues with wall signs and entrance walls into subdivisions. Council Vice Chairman James R. Byrd Jr. reported that the Internal Affairs Committee met and took action to appoint three candidates to the Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee. Full council agreed as well on a re-appointment of Earl Wilson to the Sumter Economic Development Board. Byrd also noted a motion to appoint Councilman Chris Sumpter II to the Santee-Wateree Regional Transportation council.

Councilman Eugene Baten reported on a meeting he and McCain recently attended, which included the Sumter County Legislative Delegation. Issues that impact Sumter County were discussed, as was the issue of the Legislature’s stance on the Local Government Fund.

“The response I got, I was not pleased with it,” Baten said.

He said every year the Ways and Means Committee fails to honor the law regarding the Local Government Fund. The S.C. Association of Counties is developing new positions on the matter, he said, as House members feel the current funding levels cover all the state’s mandates. Baten said a list detailing the rent, utility and maintenance fees associated with state buildings that Sumter County manages and funds needs to come to the forefront. Baten said one member of the delegation “let the cat out of the bag,” during the meeting and claimed Sumter County has yet to prove it hasn’t been funded properly. Florence County, he noted, has taken steps to develop a program setting up a tax base to cover the shortfall.

“I will encourage this council to look at Florence County’s procedure,” he said, as the county seeks to submit a budget each year without a millage increase.

Perhaps not raising millage and incurring a tax increase is hurting the quality of life for folks in Sumter County, he said, citing instances of community centers that can use upgrades such as lighting and playground equipment.

“Well said,” McCain replied to Baten’s remarks.

In other reports, Sumpter said he met recently with the Sumter Litter Alliance as litter is a pervasive issue in Sumter County that adversely impacts economic development, population growth and our precious natural resources. There needs to be a cumulative effort to tackle the issue, he said, and we must invest in ourselves. A forum is slated for 6 p.m. on Feb. 26 at Swan Lake’s Visitor Center.

Councilwoman Vivian Fleming-McGhaney said she recently attended the 20th Fighter Wing’s awards ceremony, which was rewarding to see the men and women in uniform who serve our country. She was given the honor of being an honorary wing commander, she said.

Mixon reported to council that construction of Patriot Park Pavilion is underway with a completion date anticipated to be prior to the summer months. Hawkins & Kolb Construction are building the facility, which was designed by Drakeford Architects, the same folks responsible for Patriot Park.

“It’s a local team and a wonderful project,” he said.

He also reported on a recent meeting at Temple Sinai, a Reform Jewish Congregation on Church Street, which entered into a partnership with Sumter County Museum. There are discussions to move a Holocaust Memorial near the library to Temple Sinai, he said, to complement a Holocaust display already in place. (Temple Sinai still uses the sanctuary to conduct Friday night and holiday services but the museum uses the adjoining social hall for the exhibit, according to the Temple’s website.)

Josephine Young of the greater Turkey Creek Association asked council if roads are included in discussions about the Local Government Fund. McCain gave her an explanation detailing how state agencies are housed in every county and each county is responsible for funding those agencies in various ways. Money comes out of the county’s General Fund and by law is supposed to be reimbursed by the state, he said, but each year there’s a shortfall. That difference can tip a budget out of balance or cause millage – and taxes – to be raised, he said.

She thanked McCain and noted that when everybody works together, we can accomplish many goals. She thanked all members of council for working together.

“We need to recognize you all and say you’re doing a good job,” she said.

Jamal Jones asked about summer opportunities for kids to keep them out of trouble as he takes his children to Columbia or Florence for activities. (Jones learned after the meeting about the many recreational opportunities available to Sumter County children through Sumter County’s Recreation and Parks Department Summer Enrichment Program and after school programs as well. McGhaney also reminded him of the Youth Employment Program, which provides a salaried job for high school students during the summer, giving them real world experience along with a paycheck.)

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