Darlington Fire Department receives $500,000 grant

City manager cites that the city depends on 18% of their budget from grants

By Jana E. Pye, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Darlington City Council met on Tuesday, August 4 for their regular monthly meeting at City Hall on Pearl Street. All members of council were present. At the very end of the meeting, City Manager Howard Garland told council the good news- the Darlington Fire Department was awarded large SAFER Grant by FEMA.

Lisa Rock, City Planner and DDRA Director, with new banner. Photo by Jana E. Pye

Lisa Rock, City Planner and DDRA Director, with new banner.
Photo by Jana E. Pye

“The grant requires no match, and allows the Fire Department to hire two additional personnel starting October,” said Garland “This now brings up to over $500,000 in FEMA grants, courtesy of Haidee Stith and Sandi Pringle who work on our FEMA Fire Grants.”

“You know, other towns have bigger budgets and do more with more money because they have a larger tax base,” continued Garland. “We have a combined tax or a budget of $10.1 million dollars. 18% of our funding comes from grants, so that means we haven’t had to raise our milling since 2008 and also means we are able to fund many things for many different departments. We have a talented staff to write these grants, and also we have outside folks that we partner with- including Ms. Lathan and Ms. Wallace-Selph who do a really good job for us working on the water-sewer side. So, again, we are excited that we are able to get these grants and bring great value to the taxpayers of the City of Darlington.”

Agenda items in order:

Darlington Downtown Revitalization Association (DDRA) Update: Lisa Chalian-Rock
Rock addressed council and updated them on another successful Market on Darlington Square (MoDS) held on Saturday, August 3 with 39 vendors in attendance, out of the 52 that registered. Special attractions were the AgSimulator from the SC Farm Bureau, members of the Fire and Police Department, and BINGO games offered by the Recreation Department.

To prepare for the upcoming Bojangles’ Southern 500 Race on Labor Day Weekend, DDRA plans to hang banners the week of August 17 to remain up throughout Race Week, and will place checkered flags along the Square. A Race Week Kick Off Party will be held Friday, August 28 in Liberty Lane with a limited number of tickets sold for adults 21 and over. According to Rock, a NASCAR celebrity (or more) will be on hand to sign autographs. All proceeds from the event will fund a Sign and Façade Improvement Grant Program to provide an incentive for area businesses to paint their buildings, install awnings, and improve their signs. The MoDS will also feature a race-themed chalk art contest for children on September 5.

Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce: Jannie Lathan
Lathan addressed council as the Chair of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, telling them that the Chamber continues to increase their membership. An annual planning strategy meeting and election of new chamber officers will be held soon, and the Chamber plans to host the popular “Toast of Darlington” on the first Thursday in October 1st on historic Oak Street. The board will complete the last rounds of interviews for new executive director this week, and prepares to make an announcement the week of August 10th.

Citizens Wishing to Appear Before Council:
No community members signed up to speak. Mayor Tony Watkins recognized a member of the audience. Mr. Jordan, the Regional Director for U.S. Senator Tim Scott.

Chalmers Street Ditch Update:
City Manager Howard Garland addressed citizens in the audience: “The railroad company that owns the right of way for South Carolina Central finally gave us a permit to work on their property – which was approved on July 17th, three days after our last meeting. We began work the next Tuesday with our contractor Randy Pygatt who is doing the water line for Walmart. They prepared the culvert on the railroad property, and we noticed that the smell moved over to Fleming Street after that. Immediately DHEC was all over us saying it was our fault and to check the lines in the Fleming Street area, which we did last week.”

Garland relayed that the city did dye testing on the sewer system in Fleming Street and found no problems.

According to Garland, DHEC continued to press the city.

“DHEC is still not convinced – they think it’s still possibly the City of Darlington’s problem, so they have asked us some additional smoke testing on the Chalmers Street area to do dye testing now and do camera testing in the Chalmers Street area, so that’s what we are doing now. Publically, I can’t make any other comment that except that instead of worrying so much about the city, maybe they should worry about some other folks too, maybe? I mean, we’ve bent over backwards to work in this situation with the neighborhood, with the industry and with DHEC and we seem to be the one…just because we stepped up, we are the ones that are getting all the grief.”

The city spoke to representatives at the RIA (Rural Infrastructure Authority) grant workshop earlier last month, and received information for applying for another grant for that area.

“Again, we talked about this being not a short term fix, but a long term fix. We’ll have some more information for you at our September 1st meeting as to that grant process. That grant is due in the middle of September but it’s a quick turnaround time but I think we feel comfortable with our staff that we can get that done and get that back out. As far as the awarding of it, that’s some of the internal discussions that we’ve got to have we don’t know whether we are going to apply for funding under sewer, or under storm water. That’s the discussion that we have to have.”

David Brown, of Davis & Brown added: “Just one thing, we have been working with DHEC. We’ve been trying to keep DHEC in the loop and we’ve got identified seven sample points that when we get a rain, we are going to sample those points and that will keep somebody from dumping further stuff but we should be able to catch it and give more information.”

Garland and Brown both agreed the lack of heavy rains this summer has hindered the process to test.

In addition to the lack of rain, a fire hydrant was struck on West Broad Street that resulted in major sewer damage on Milling Street. The damage was repaired by city water and sewer maintenance by Friday August 31, and the road was re-opened by the next day.

Debbie Hardee, “Dog Owners Removing Waste”: Ms.Hardee has been on the agenda in previous months, and yet again was not present.

New Business: Streamlining Permit Process: Councilman Cooper
Councilman Jimmy Cooper addressed council about the idea of streamlining the process for new businesses coming into the city. “We got some calls and suggestions from local businesses for people interested in opening a business in the city of Darlington,” said Cooper. “Also, the Municipal Association was brought to our attention- on a universal business license through the state – we can look into that. But what did take place was a couple of the city heads came together, department heads, and had a sit down on what the policy is currently.”

Cooper said the group is compiling an itemized list on what is the most important items for a permit process for new businesses, with hopes to complete a packet of information to give to prospective business owners. “I must admit, I’m really proud to have these individuals from the city – they really, really shine bright.”

Mayor Tony Watkins responded, “Well, every now and then I think we have changes in personnel. At one time the DDRA – a partner in looking out for businesses – had encouraged us to do the same thing.”

Darlington County First Steps: Jon E. Flowers
Flowers showed council and audience members a slide show compilation of the past few months of presentations the group has been working on to help teen parents – mothers and fathers. “We are working with Parents are First, which is a federally funded grant thru the Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) – a comprehensive fund to help 15 – 24 year old mothers in the community and decrease the amount of teen pregnancies and reduce the amount of repeat teen pregnancies.” said Flowers. “Darlington County has been specifically hit by this- and its through the Duke Endowment research of the past couple of years- Darlington County is the only county in SC that has been both high burden and high frequency of teen pregnancy and it’s been a huge burden on the tax payers.”

The PAF grant is a four-year grant warded in 2014, unique in the state of South Carolina in that it includes a fatherhood initiative.

“What we are doing is to bring the fathers into the family as well, to work with the mothers and create a better family environment. Why is the grant is important? We are the 14th highest rate of teen pregnancy, and the 5th highest of repeat teen pregnancy. That is where you get the high burden from. We did the math, and it’s about $4.5 million dollars per year to the tax payers.”

With the support of community partners such as Darlington County School District Adult Education, Darlington County Head Start, Children First, and more, the following goals will be addressed:

increase education in the community; reduce the number of teen births; reduce the number of repeat teen births; help with parenting skills ; promote safe sex; peer counseling; how to receive prenatal care; assistance with health care; assistance with job skills; and issues affecting teen fathers specifically.

“CareSouth Carolina has also been a partner,” said Flowers. “With their new mobile unit, they can customize and come out to a community and perform check ups, STD check ups, insert LARCs, which are long acting contraceptives that last 3 – 5 years, and many more.”

Flowers said that the new “man cave” from a building donated by Head Start in Hartsville received help from the successful direction of a similar program in Marlboro County by Derrick Dease, who assists between 30-40 young fathers in that county. Plans are made to hopefully fund another “man cave” in the Darlington area.

Councilwoman Gloria Hines said, “They are not asking for any money. They are asking to see if perhaps someone can donate a building to them and we could have a man cave here in Darlington for young fathers.”

County Transportation Committee Paving Request (CTC)
Howard Garland told council that Darlington County Council Chair Bobby Hudson is relaying a request that we have Lockend Street paved; the city took the road over from the county in 1998, and now is an access to McLeod Urgent Care, Auddie Brown Chevrolet and Pizza Hut.

“Mr. Brown has called us for years to pave it and fix the potholes, and we’ve asked him to come in and annex into the City and he declined. That’s kind of where we’ve been. Mr. Hudson says we have support of County Transportation Committee if we forward a request to have that street paved. He wanted me at the last meeting to do that, and I told him I would not do that without council input. So I am asking what you all want to do concerning Lockend Street.”

Mayor Tony Watkins responded, “Mr. Garland and I have had some discussion on this, and let me just say we will take any help the county or Mr. Hudson can give with the CTC, but, that particular road, even though we own it, I don’t know if we need to extend all of our credit or what credit we have within the CTC should we have need for other more pressing streets.”

After much discussion, council agreed to work on a list of City owned and DOT owned streets that are in need of repair, including Lockend, and prioritize them according to need.

Garland asked, “Would council be willing to give me the authority to give them that road if it comes up? Or give it to Auddie Brown?”

“That’s up to them.” replied Watkins. “We don’t really need it. Enter into negotiations with Mr. Brown see what their needs are. Come up with our priority list and give it to the CTC.”

According to Garland, there are about 30 streets in the city, with 19 owned by the city and the rest by DOT.

Resolution Tax – Advantaged Bond Compliance
Garland shared the bond from BB & T: “This is new language from the last bond from BB & T which we just approved at last council meeting this approves policies and procedures that assures that any bond proceeds will be used just for what they are scheduled for – use of water and sewer – and not be transferred to the general fund or used for any other purposes other than water and sewer.”

The refinanced bond requires an audit to the IR and to the State of SC, and to the bond holder, BB & T.

Council passed motion to approve unanimously.

Update Municipal Courtroom Improvement Grant
Chief of Police Danny Watson updated council on the new municipal courtroom which will begin construction on August 10; there are no estimates on the completion date. The new courtroom was funded in part by a USDA Grant in the amount of $59,000; the city’s portion will be roughly $48,000.

The grant process began in 2013, and had to be resubmitted for bid three times. The new courtroom will have new carpet, a lower ceiling, better acoustics, new lighting, new air conditioning vents, hanging microphones, new pews for seating, new seating for judges and clerk of court, and a long bar for council to be seated for their monthly meetings.

In addition, cameras will be installed for security.

First Reading Ordinance 2015-13 “Comprehensive Plan Update”
Council approved the First Reading of the Comprehensive Plan Update that the Planning Commission reviewed.

The Comprehensive Plan was originally prepared in 2007, with addendums prepared in 2013.

“As you know we have a comprehensive plan; it talks about what the existing conditions are in Darlington which direction we are moving in due to populations trends, housing trends, and areas of recreation. To develop a plan is a very difficult thing because it involves a lot of variables. I think a very good job was done and I’m glad that the planning commission was able to examine it before we put it into use.” said Watkins. “Basically it is a living document, it changes a lot in terms of conditions on the ground, financing, in terms of ups and downs in economics and populations however this is the best plan we can develop and follow to the best of our ability.”

Biker Rally Report – Chief Watson
Watson told council his department would provide 24 hour extra patrolling for the duration of the Bike Rally, which would incur additional overtime pay for his staff. “Unless they are in the hospital or on military leave, they will be working.”

Street Sign Report
Garland told council that the concrete posts that date back to the 1930’s will be scraped and repainted with reflective paint.

The existing green signs number a total of 113 that needed repair; 83 have been completed. Some still need brackets or posts.

Councilman Wayne Chapman’s suggestion to replace signs in the city to designate areas of interest such as the Historic District were addressed.

“I’ve talked to other towns and those signs cost between $30 to $100 a piece depending on what artwork you want on them,” said Garland. “We have identified approximately 90 different areas to put those signs out; it would cost about $16,000 to $40,000. It all depends on what council would like to do. What we would need from you is some type of direction- do you want to put the city logo on there, or a checkered flag? As policy, you picked out the city logo in 2007 with the Darlington oak on it, that’s a possibility but we certainly want to go over it before we go out and order decorative signs.”

Garland said that City Planner Lisa Rock suggested the Beautification Committee be involved in the selection of signs.

Mayor Tony Watkins requested that a few ideas be brought back to council.

City Manager Update:
IN addition to the news of the FEMA grant to the Fire Department, Garland announced that Walmart will begin construction work on building site by the end of September, and that Taco Bell will be ready by Race Week.

Next City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, September 1, 2015 7 p.m.

Author: Duane Childers

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