Council discusses budget, plans for city’s future

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

In a work session Tuesday, April 18, 2017, Darlington City Council members and city department heads discussed the current fiscal year, next year’s budget and several projects that will be coming down the road for the city. Council also held a work session Monday, April 17.

Freddie Kinsaul, Director of Utilities, presented council with a plan for the next five years. He included what he considers to be the priorities for the Water and Sewer Department over each of the next five years. Among those priorities: repairs on pump stations, fire hydrant repair and upgrades to wastewater treatment plants.

Also on Kinsaul’s budget layout was a proposed change on the rates for water and sewer, both inside and outside the city limits.
The proposals are as follows:

Inside the city limits, water and sewer rates will increase 3 percent (25 cents) per unit, going from $8.75 to $9 per unit. An additional 3 percent increase will be added each year until 2020.

Outside of the city limits, the increase will be 5 percent and an additional 5 percent will be added each year until 2020. The increase will bring out of city water and sewer rates for the next fiscal year to $19.87 and $21.67, respectively.

Residential and commercial charges for sanitation will each increase to $23.

Darlington Police Chief Danny Watson told council that because of several grants his department had received, it was able to recoup a substantial amount of money spent in several areas during the 2016/2017 year, including vehicle purchase.

“At the end of the day, the total return is about $700,000 that we are able to bring back in,” Watson said. “That varies year to year but this has been a great year. We hope to continue to be able to do that with grants and stuff. The great thing about the COPS grant is that it is 100 percent; the DUI Enforcement grant is also 100 percent. The USDA vehicle return grant, that is something you are only going to get about once every other year which is still good because you get that influx of cash between $26,000 and $30,000 to help with your vehicles.”

Watson told council members that even with Hurricane Matthew and other storms the last few years, his department has been able to cut down on the number of overtime hours.

His report shows that in 2014/2015, there were approximately 4,400 hours of overtime. The following year, that number dropped to 3,813. For 2016/2017, that number dropped even more to around 822.75 hours. That is a reduction of more than 80 percent, roughly $70,650.68
Watson said that his proposed budget for personnel and retirement will have an increase of 3.038 percent over the current fiscal year, mainly because of a state mandated increase in retirement; that alone accounts for $31,763 or 50 percent of the budget increase for personnel and retirement. The department’s operating budget will see an increase of $9,300; a county mandated increase takes a large chunk of that increase at $6,000.

The planning department will also see a slight increase in expenses, according to City Planner Lisa Rock. Most of the increase will be in the operating expenses. A large chunk of that operating expense budget will be spent on trimming and planting trees.

“Last year there was no money in the budget (for trees) but we ended up spending because of the storm, around $20,000, for hazardous tree removal,” Rock said. “We still probably have about $10,000 of hazardous trees that need to come down from the storm….We did what we could this year and kind of left the ones we thought we could wait to take down.”

Another item in the planning budget that saw a large increase was beautification.

“This would be for the entrances that we have talked so much about. I am going to put it out for bid to include all of these entrances as far as weeding and mulching, the basic maintenance so that they look appropriate.”

City Manager Howard Garland told council members that installing LED lights throughout city buildings was saving them a substantial amount of money.
“We are having a good amount of savings (on electricity, water and gas) because we have gone to all of these LED bulbs,” Garland said. “You see the reduction there (from $36,000 for the current fiscal year to $18,000 for the next). That is a very positive thing; they are really bright but we are saving so much money off of that.”

Garland brought an issue before council that he said needs to be looked at if they are going to be serious about fixing the issues the city faces with stormwater.

“This is something that we have talked about privately, manager to council member, but I think it needs to be mentioned with everyone together,” Garland said. “We don’t have enough funds to fix our stormwater problem; not with just one bond and not even if we do three bonds. It still is not going to be enough. The thing that we have discussed internally is looking at what other towns have done in this area, and I speak specifically about Marion and Mullins. They sold their water system to help pay for other things. Priority for Mullins was building fire stations and they have three fire stations now….That is one thing to look at. Do I want to do that? No, but I would not being doing my job if I did not put it out on the table for discussion.”

Kinsaul said that regionalization of treatment plants is not uncommon.

“Regionalization is growing,” Kinsaul said. “That is what DHEC likes, do away with the small little guy and make like Florence where they have a tremendous waste treatment plant over there now.”
Garland said that the council may have a few years to make a decision but one will have to be made nonetheless.
“Our treatment plant is nearing the end of its useful life,” Garland said. “It was built in 1982. We use a rapid filtration system; the technology is very simple and works okay but the time is going to come where we are growing and we are not going to be able to send our industrial waste there. That’s why the line on the bypass is so important for the growth out there…I am trying to prepare you mentally for the day when we have to seriously consider that. It’s not going to be this year but we are going to have to do something.”

Author: Duane Childers

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