City Council discusses grants, storm water and flooding

By Samantha Lyles, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Darlington City Council convened a work session on Tuesday, September 25 to discuss grant applications, issues related to the Hurricane Florence aftermath, and the city manager’s employment contract.

The meeting opened with Council discussing the application for an EDA (US Economic Development Administration) grant to improve four sewage lift stations located on Joe Louis Blvd, the intersection of South Main and the Hwy 52 Bypass (near Verizon), the city’s old water treatment plant on the Old Florence Hwy, and near Hampton Street behind Grove Hill Cemetery.

City Manager Howard Garland said the application is in the works, and when it is finalized in mid-October copies of the application will be given to members of City Council and the Mayor. Garland distributed copies of a letter signed by Pee Dee Council of Governments Executive Director Johnny Brown stating that his agency would complete and submit the grant application for no fee, and would charge no more than $25,000 to administer the grant, if the application is successful.

The EDA grant the city is seeking is an 80/20 funding split, with the city responsible for only 20 percent of the project costs. Garland said that regular EDA grants are funded on a 50/50 basis.

Council member Elaine Reed questioned whether the city would qualify for this EDA grant, since the $147 million funding pool was established to help communities in southeastern states recover from hurricanes. Garland said he was personally told by representatives from PDCOG and EDA that Darlington meets the qualifications and should apply for the grant, and Reed conceded that was “good enough” for her.

Discussion then turned to Garland’s employment contract. Reed said that since Council voted 4 to 3 at a July special meeting to extend Garland’s existing contract for another two years, there was little that could be done to alter it now, but she would like to see a detailed job description added to future city manager contracts.

Reed also voiced a desire for the city to develop a human resources department, and establish a regular grievance committee to deal with employee issues. Council member Sheila Baccus added that she would like to see the city hire an engineer to help with storm water drainage issues, such as mapping catch basins and drains that regularly underperform during heavy rain.

Garland said that if the city took such steps, it would make sense to keep the project short-range (three to five years) and ensure that the engineer could interface and work well with the South Carolina Department of Transportation, which owns many of the roads where poor drainage occurs. Garland noted that “the majority of the storm water system in this city is SCDOT.”

He later added that planning is needed to help areas of town that experience dangerous flooding during major storms like Hurricane Florence. Garland said that during the storm and the flooding worries that followed, city residents living near Black Creek on Shoshone Drive, Hank Haney Lane, Circle Drive, and the Oakdale community experienced such severe flooding that many of them evacuated their homes. He said that since Oakdale was built in the early 1960s, no one had formed a plan to deal with flooding that might result from Prestwood Lake overtopping its dam and sending massive amounts of water into the creek – which nearly happened as a result of Florence.

“That’s a brand new (issue) for everybody at this table,” said Garland, adding that he wants City Council to meet with representatives from Darlington County and other municipalities to establish clear communication protocols so local governments are better informed of such potential dangers.

Author: Rachel Howell

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