Hartsville Chamber hosts Legislative Breakfast
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, email@example.com
Members of the Darlington County business community joined together on Friday, December 9 to hear an update from local legislative delegation at a breakfast hosted by the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce at the Butler Heritage Auditorium in Hartsville. Jay Lucas, South Carolina Speaker of the House of Representatives – and Hartsville native, and Johnny Andrews, Mayor Pro Tempore of City of Hartsville spoke.
Senator Gerald Malloy and Rep. Robert Williams were called out of town and were unable to attend.
Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce President Quinetta Buterbaugh was pleased by the turnout. “This event is really important for us to have,” she said. “Because it allows them to have face time with our decision makers and policy makers and the government is very interdependent on businesses and their success. Without economic progress we cannot have a community. It’s very important that our businesses get to talk with our legislators and decision makers. That’s why I want to offer this every other year right before the beginning of the legislative session. I was really pleased with the turnout, we had 80 business folks and members, the Darlington Chamber president, City Council members, it was all very successful. I’m very grateful for the support of the community.”
Casey Copeland, Public Policy and Economic Development Chair for Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, welcomed the attendees of the event and introduced the speakers: “For steady economic growth the government creates a legislative environment to enable businesses is needed to be successful. A balanced relationship between business and government is needed to have a healthy economy and welfare of the community. Today’s event proves that Hartsville is strong because of the commitment of our local and state government and business community.”
Johnny Andrews, Mayor Pro Tempore for City of Hartsville spoke first, outlining facts and figures for the City of Hartsville, their current achievements and future plans.
“Less than 8,000 people live in Hartsville,” said Andrews. “Progress we’ve made over the past few years could not have been possible without many other partners and collaborations. The city government could not have done it alone; it was a partnership as we go forward.
He noted that the City of Hartsville has not seen a millage increase in taxes in years, and last year and dropped the millage increase by 3%. The general fund budget for Hartsville is about 9.2 million dollars which includes $2 million for the police department, and $800,000 for the fire department – 30% of budget for public safety.
Issues and concerns noted by Andrews included the South Hartsville Historic Butler District; city is now working on: Marion Avenue sidewalk project; plans to tear down the old Lincoln Village; preservation of the historic African American cemetery located behind Lincoln Village.
The Hartsville Safe Community Program, which identifies habitual offenders in Hartsville and gives them the tools to make a change, has made recent gains. Andrews shared that several young men have completed CDL training with partner Florence Darlington Technical College; one has recently been hired by the City of Hartsville. “You just can’t tell people you have to stop doing what you are doing, you have to give them a path to success,” said Andrews.
Future plans for Hartsville include incentives for economic development in Hartsville to make building on empty lots in the Butler District and Oakdale community attractive for developers by waiving 100% of the tap fees, and up to 50% of the building fees; in some cases the city will help with the demolition of derelict houses, or even give the property to build on.
Another incentive for historic properties by freezing assessments. “If you invest up to 20% of the assessed value of the property, we will freeze the assessment; if the home is worth $200,000, and you put in improvements of $100,000, the value of the house is now $300,000 but we’ll freeze assessment at $200,000 for up to 20 years.” In the major corridors and downtown area, the city will waive up to 100% of tap fees, up to 50% of building fees, up to 50% of business licenses, up to five years, and up to 50% of hospitality and accommodation taxes for hotel or a restaurants.
Andrews noted the Start Up Hartsville program’s past winner Griggs Circle Bakery has just opened their storefront with the help of the winnings.
A building façade grant program encourages businesses to paint, improve their signs, and improve overall appearance of their storefronts in downtown area. The new Navigator office is a new “one stop shop’’ for businesses to get their business permit, and have questions answered within city hall.
The newly improved College Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets has been a success for the City; they took the road from SDDOT to improve the notoriously bumpy road, creating a smooth street with two new city parking lots. In the spring, sidewalk food vendors will be coming to the downtown area and future food trucks.
The November election passed a Sunday alcohol sales in the city limits for businesses and restaurants to sell alcohol if they choose.
According to figures given by the SC Dept. of Revenue, from 2011 to 2016, gross sales in Hartsville increased 18.4% and net taxable sales increased 17.3%.
From 2010 – 2016, hospitality tax increased 30.5 % accommodations tax hotel increased by 97% – it doubled.”
Upcoming in the future:
• New weight bearing signs.
• Garbage and yard debris pickup will become more regular and efficient.
• New public service complex for police and fire department in the next five years on the lot of land at corner of 6th Street and Carolina Ave.
• New industrial park of 170 acres with rail service adjacent to 15 Bypass to create jobs.
• EdVenture coming to Hartsville, a satellite children’s museum of the Columbia site.
• Water park expansion of the splash pad, a major expansion adding a lazy river, large water slides, an action pool, a wave pool, and private cabanas to that area at Byerly Park.
Questions posed to Andrews included plight of homeless, to which he said sadly there are not many programs in place at this point, other than the warming shelter offered at Second Baptist Church, which has not been well attended. Another question regarding the upcoming traffic roundabout planned for the intersection of 14th Street and Carolina Avenue,, which will go out for bid the end of February; and annexation, which Andrews said is difficult because in S.C. 75 % of the residents must agree to want to come in.
Jay Lucas, South Carolina Speaker of the House of Representatives spoke to the group, many of whom he had known his entire life as a lifelong resident of Hartsville.
Lucas shared that the three major issues facing the state of South Carolina remain roads, the pension system, and education. He noted that the state has much to be proud of this year.
“South Carolina in as good as a state can be now, with a $350 million dollar reserve fund, and a growth of about 6.5% which is incredible,” he said. “Forbes rates us as the 9th friendliest tax state and the 9th best rate for job creation in the nation.”
As far as the problems, Lucas said that no matter where visits in the state, roads continue to be an issue. “Roads are imperative to business in South Carolina,” he said. “We are the 4th highest number of roads to care for – 42,000 center lane miles of roads. We are now 49th with the lowest gas rate tax –Alaska is last, they have other ways to fund their road repairs.”
Lucas noted that the House passed a “tremendously brave proposal for 10 cents” gas tax hike. “We don’t pass tax hikes very easily in South Carolina,” he said. “And not only did I vote for it, I sponsored the bill – it’s that important.”
The Senate sent back a bill to dedicate $400 million towards road system out of general fund. “Our growth will be less than $400,000,” he continued. “We defeated it, and the governor was adamant we pass it.. but I strongly disagreed.”
Lucas added that the only comparable state with many miles of roads to maintain with a low gas tax rate is Missouri that maintains 35,000 miles of roads and is also struggling to maintain them. “What they did and what we will have to do is to triage our roads to maintain them.” He notes that local business Sonoco has been bold in their dismay over the road systems in SC. “Jack Sanders at Sonoco said the roads so bad that their trucks must circumvent road system on US Route 1 between Cheraw and Patrick to save on wear and tear on the vehicles.”
Lucas said that other companies such as Michelin noted the road issue as a deciding factor in not expanding in South Carolina.
He informally polled the attendees on whether they would mind a 10-cent gas tax – and all raised their hands that they wouldn’t mind. “It is a user fee,” he said. “We cannot continue to ignore, we must address and put it behind us.”
Lucas also said that the current state pension fund is “not as solvent as we would want it to be,” noting that it will be a major issue when the legislation returns to Columbia this session. “We don’t want to spread alarm and cause problems, but this is a big issue this year.”
The Abbeville decision regarding education continues to be on the forefront in the state, and Lucas said that he is proud of the House of Representatives on their initiatives. “The response from other areas of government was tepid,” said Lucas. “At the house, we were definitely not tepid. We put together a best task force ever created, six members from poorest school districts, House members on there, and former school superintendent Rainey Knight.” noting that Knight had done an outstanding job here in Darlington County bringing this rural district to great heights under her tenure.
“We need to figure out ways to help impoverished districts,” he continued. “South Carolina needs to provide students a 21st century education.”
He noted that he hopes to put more graduating high school students into good paying jobs. “We need to change curriculum, get kids from high school into manufacturing.”
At the college level, Lucas hopes to see more SC students succeeding in the job force, too. “Georgia Tech produces more engineers than all of the SC colleges. When I talk to Boeing, they say that across the state there is not enough engineers. We must do a better job to produce a better workforce at the high school level and those students coming out of college.”