City votes to postpone storm water fee, hears good news: Southern 500 Parade to return!

By Jana E. Pye, Editor,

The storm water fees that have been discussed for over a year by Darlington council surfaced with a new twist at the March meeting after hearing what Mayor Tony Watkins shared with council about the city of Hartsville. Hartsville, who acted in a proactive fashion by collecting storm water fees six years ago to provide a plan for a pending DHEC mandate, ending up not receiving the mandate after all.

Darlington Council, who had planned to implement a similar plan to collect fees in the same amount, $4 for residents, $5 for businesses, to “save up” for the mandate, voted to hold off on collecting those fees.

Based on recommendations from City Manager Howard Garland and Water and Sewer Director Fred Kinsaul, the DHEC office is not expected to send out any mandates to Darlington for several months; they told him their office is currently bogged down with Columbia’s water issues and has a long list of waiver letters to address.

“We may not get a formal letter until after the first of next year,” said Kinsaul. “My recommendations are to postpone this fee for at least a year.”

Mayor Tony Watkins told council; “We have 180 days after the receipt of a mandate letter, in addition to the delays in Columbia, is it prudent to start raising money until we know exactly what we need, and how much it will cost?”

Kinsaul said he estimates it could take approximately $55,000 to implement a plan to deal with the wastewater issues.
Council debated whether they would collect a lower fee, or put the fee in a separate fund.

Watkins countered, “If we do that, we are obligate to spend the tax payers dollars on what we collect it for,” said Watkins. “We already have a capital fund for water and sewer. We can already be addressing our problems. If we collect money for a mandate we don’t even have yet, we will be putting an undue burden on our taxpayers.”

Councilman John Segars asked, “Can Hartsville legally spend that money they collected?”
“I don’t know,” said Watkins. “That is their problem. If there is any fall out about it, legally or politically, we can learn from that.”

Council voted to wait.

Southern 500 Parade to return Saturday, September 3

Howard Garland told council and mayor that the beloved Southern 500 Parade will be retuning to Darlington, and will be held on Saturday September 3 at 7 p.m. “We all grew up loving this parade,” said Garland. City Recreation Department Director Lee Andrews and his staff will be assisting with the planning. The event will be held in the evening, as the day is going to be a busy one with the Mayo High School parade that morning followed by a foot race.

Darlington Downtown Revitalization Association

Despite the cold and icy weather, Director Lisa Chalian-Rock told council she had a great turnout for two events held in February: approximately 30 people attended the dedication ceremony for the Beautification on the Square ceremony; the committee plans are to add more pots of trees/shrubbery/flowers down Cashua, Pearl, and South Main Streets. DDRA also had ten people attend the Build Up Darlington small business seminar on tax issues.

Upcoming DDRA events include:
DDRA Golf Tournament Wednesday, April 8 at Darlington Country Club, 11:30 a.m. lunch, 1:00 p.m. shotgun start.
Taste of Darlington, Thursday April 16, at Darlington Raceway.

At each event, Rock will hold a drawing for a $500 advertising credit for old, and new members. To reach Rock about joining DDRA or cooking at the Taste, call: 843-398-4000 Ext. 103

Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce
Director Hannah Stanley shared that the promotional commercial for Darlington that was debuted at the Annual Banquet was nearly ready for the public, after the addition of the last bit of filming was completed from Nucor. The short video will be shared on the Chamber website, the City website, and on social media in hopes to promote businesses to locate in Darlington, and to encourage consumers to shop locally.

Upcoming events sponsored by the Chamber include:
Golf Tournament on March 27 at Darlington Country Club; Stanley said she is still accepting sponsors and registering golf teams.
Lunch and Learn on March 30, location TBA, featuring Sean Downey, “Achieve Your Sales and Income Goals in 2015!”
Administrative Professional’s Day on April 22 at SiMT, joint event with Florence and Hartsville Chambers, planned for 400 women.
Business After Hours on May 15 at Chamber office, hosted by Muffulettta Media. Owners Kevin and Melissa Baron are the founders of the Pee Dee Foodie blog and trademarked the #GoFlo marketing campaign.
Freedom Fest planned for Fourth of July holiday at the Darlington Raceway; committee hopes to expand reach to include more of the Pee Dee area.

Community member appearing before council:
Albert Johnson, of “Uncle Albert’s Famous BBQ Sauce” approached council and relayed a situation he was involved in with local law enforcement, and a request to have copies of the video tape of the encounter. He said he has
requested the information since November. Mayor Watkins asked if he had retained council, and Johnson replied he had shared details “with his fraternity brother Malloy” and another friend.

At the end of the meeting, during the City Manager’s Update, Howard Garland told council that he wanted to set the record straight; the tape had been viewed by Mr. Johnson twice and he had been given copies, but those DVD copies would not play on his computer.

Darlington County Tourism update, Jessica Cohen, Director:
Jessica Cohen introduced herself to city council, and updated them on the Biker’s Rally which will be held in August this year. She outlined her plans to promote Darlington County as a destination for sporting and eco-tourism events.

Mayor Tony Watkins told her, “I can honestly say this is the first time the county tourism director has visited council,” he said. “We usually get left out of so much. I hope you attend again!”

Second Reading Ordinance 2015 – 02 “Establishment of Underground Power Fund”:
The City of Darlington will participate in the “Overhead to Underground Conversion Plan for Municipalities” which provides for matching contributions by Duke Energy Progress, Inc. and the City to fund the cost of replacing overhead power lines with underground lines. The undertaking will be costly, but with this matching program it is something the city can manage a bit at a time, based on recommendations by City Manager Howard Garland.

Resolution: “City of Darlington Clean Up Month”
The city of Darlington voted a resolution proclaiming April as City Clean Up Month with several events. The Kalmia Garden Study Club will partner with the Beautification Board for a third consecutive year for a Community Clean Up Day on Saturday, April 11 from 8 a.m. to noon. The Darlington Kiwanis Club will join in as part of their One Day community service day. Volunteers are asked to join in with activities around the square, including planting flowers, adding pine straw, and cleaning. Other project sites include the library, Wells Park, and City entrances. The groups hope the “clean up” will extend outward to all areas of the city.

The City will also participate in the Great American Clean Up, a national litter collection event.

The city proclamation hopes to inspire residents to take special care the entire month to clean, fix, paint and landscape their properties, pick up litter on city streets and neighborhoods, join one of the two events; or assist an elderly or disabled neighbor with their property.

Sinkholes in Darlington
The sinkhole behind the old jail/Darlington County Historical Commission has grown larger, with places that are up to 13 – 14 feet deep. Engineers from Davis and Brown recommend that the city patch it up, and when the sewer project is getting done on South Main, contract the company to come down and send the cameras down to see the extent of the damage – which would be cheaper since they would already be on contract and close by.

City Manager Update
City manager Howard Garland shared Rep. Rick Quinn’s bill proposal H. B. 3490, which hopes to reform the way business fees are assessed in South Carolina.

“His bill would hurt small municipalities like Darlington tremendously,” said Garland. That fee now is 18% of our budget. If this passes, it would mean a reduction in staff for us.”

He also shared the Darlington County wants to charge Darlington, and Hartsville, for housing inmates at the Darlington County Detention Center. “That would mean $180,000 annually for us, and $226,000 annually for Hartsville,” said Garland. “I urge everyone to attend the County Council meeting on March 15 at 6 p.m. to voice your opinion on this.”

Executive Session:
Economic Development “Possible Property Purchase for EDA Sewer Project, Economic Development – Patience Street”

Council met in executive session about plans to purchase a small piece of property to properly close Patience Street. There is a resident that owns a home at the intersection at Patience Street; she has another way to enter and exit, but will be inconvenienced by the construction teaming up her yard. In exchange for her cooperation the city will make plans to landscape her property – barring that there are no issues with DOT in regards to the closing of the street. The rest of the yard would be re-graded it to the point it will be usable for a yard, with perhaps sod and shrubbery. “The intent of a promise to make sure we can make it look attractive,” said Watkins.

The City offices will be closed for Friday, April 3 for Good Friday, and Council will meet again on Tuesday, April 7 at 7 p.m. for the regular monthly meeting.

Author: Jana Pye

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