County alters Blue Laws, scraps tax installment plan

102-year-old Anna Naomie Marone Davis (center) was honored by Darlington County Council at its May 6 meeting. Accompanying her are (from left) council member Joyce Wingate Thomas, daughters Joan Etta Davis Bruce Harris and Emma Davis Smoot, and council chairman Bobby Hudson. Photo by Samantha Lyles

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

At their May 6 meeting, Darlington County Council voted to allow businesses to open early on Sundays, but scrapped a plan to let residents pay property taxes via installment payments.

Council deadlocked at four “ayes” and four “nays” on third reading for Ordinance 19-01, which would have given Darlington County citizens the option to pay next year’s property taxes through installments.

During discussion prior to the vote, county administrator Charles Stewart explained that instituting this program would require the purchase of an $8,500 software module and around $1,500 in annual maintenance costs.

“I just don’t see where it’s worth $10,000 of taxpayers’ money to set up an installment payment,” said council member Le Flowers (District 5, Swift Creek Area). He expressed doubt that the program would generate adequate participation to offset the expense.

“It has not been proven to me that the number of people who would plan to use it would make it worth the funds to expend.”

Council member Joyce Wingate Thomas

Council member Joyce Wingate Thomas (District 3, Darlington) asked whether Stewart had an estimate of how many people might participate in the program. Stewart replied that some counties have higher rates than others, but most counties with heavy usage “have three and five times the population density” of Darlington County. He added that this program was not suggested by staff or by the treasurer’s office, but was brought to Darlington County Council’s attention by a citizen.

David Coker (District 8, Hartsville) asked Stewart how Darlington County Treasurer Jeff Robinson felt about the idea of installment payments.

“Not thrilled,” answered Stewart. “The only way for this to be monetarily worth it is for so many people to pay their taxes ahead of time, before they’re actually due, that the county earns that much interest – and interest rates aren’t that great at this time.”

Vice Chairman Lewis Brown (District 7, Hartsville / Kelleytown) said that while he didn’t disagree with arguments against the expense, he felt the program might be helpful to some segments of the population, such as senior citizens.

As discussion ended and votes were cast, Chairman Bobby Hudson and Council members Le Flowers, Bobby Kilgo, and Dannie Douglas voted against, while Brown, Coker, Wingate Thomas, and Albert Davis voted in favor. The 4 to 4 tie means the ordinance cannot be adopted.

Council did reach consensus on Ordinance 19-02, which will “indefinitely suspend Sunday work prohibitions” and allow businesses located in unincorporated areas of the county to open prior to 1:30 p.m.

The statewide Sunday business restrictions, commonly referred to as “Blue Laws,” allow municipalities and counties to specifically opt out by passing locally applied regulations. During a Feb. 18 work session, Council member Bobby Kilgo proposed the county take action to allow county businesses to compete with stores in Hartsville and Darlington, where businesses are already allowed to open early on Sundays.

The ordinance includes language prohibiting employers from discriminating against those who choose to reserve Sundays or Saturdays as a day of worship. Council unanimously approved final reading.

Also at this meeting, Council passed second reading of two ordinances which place additional responsibilities on landlords / owners of mobile home parks and camper parks. These measures require landlords to ensure that tenants have registered their mobile homes with the county.

First reading (title only, no vote required) was held for Ordinance 19-10, which would authorize a FILOT (Fee In Lieu Of Tax) agreement between the county and an unnamed industry, code named “Project Heat Wave.” According to the ordinance, this project could invest $75,000,000 over five years.

The ordinance “provides for fee in lieu of tax payments utilizing a 6% assessment ratio for a period of 30 years for the Project or each component thereof placed in service during the initial investment period and any investment period extension to which the County and the Company agree and the issuance of a 10-year special source revenue credit equal to $25,000 per year.”

Finally, Council took a moment to recognize and honor one of Darlington County’s most senior citizens, Anna Naomi Marone Davis, on the occasion of her recent 102nd birthday. A Charleston County native, Davis moved to Darlington at age 10. She and husband Johnnie Davis (d. 1948) entered the restaurant business together, and Anna kept at it until 1959.

Davis traveled, spending time in London, New York City, and Virginia, then returned home to Darlington in 1972. She enrolled in Florence Darlington Technical College and went to work at Marquis Boats of Hartsville, where she remained until retirement at age 72.

According to the proclamation read by Vice Chairman Brown, the Davis family included two sons “who were taken to live with the Lord as infants, four daughters, Emma Davis Smoot, Lillie Mae Flynn, Joan Etta Davis Bruce Harris, and Annette Davis Thomas, three stepsons, Robert Goodson, Alphonso Joseph, and Charles Goodson, and countless grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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