Council refuses to sign state inmate agreement
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Darlington County Council held a special called meeting July 20 to address two pressing issues: whether to exempt the Darlington County School District from a new yard debris dumping fee, and whether to sign an agreement regarding state inmates at the Prison Farm.
In short, the answer was “no” on both counts.
First up, council debated the wisdom of signing a contract to house South Carolina Department of Corrections prisoners when that contract commits Darlington County’s prison facilities to comply with federal PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) standards. Compliance at the Prison Farm – and at the Detention Center – would require the hiring of more guards, and there are no immediate plans to add staff.
Vice chair Robbin Brock expressed reservations about committing on paper to PREA compliance when meeting those standards would mean hiring 4 to 8 additional guards.
“I personally don’t see how I can vote for this if I know in two weeks – or three or four weeks – they’ll come up and say we’ve got to start hiring people to comply to all the standards,” said Brock.
Prison Farm director Capt. Jonathan McFadden told council that his facility’s state inmate housing agreement expired June 30. This new agreement is unchanged from the previous contract. He added that while county jails have never been formally PREA compliant (the act was passed in 2003), the Prison Farm has procedures in place to prevent sexual assault.
McFadden told the News and Press that there are currently 21 state prisoners housed at the Prison Farm.
County administrator Terence Arrington advised carrying over the matter while he made inquiries about the legality and potential consequences of refusing to sign, but council had already begun the voting process.
Council’s final vote was 4 to 3, with council members Bobby Kilgo, Le Flowers, David Coker, and vice chair Brock voting against, and council members Wilhelmina Johnson, Dannie Douglas, and chair Bobby Hudson voting to sign the agreement. A member of the prevailing side may bring the contract up for reconsideration at a future meeting, which Brock said he might do, pending further research.
A request from the Darlington County School District (DCSD) for waiver of the new $38.50 per ton fee for yard debris disposal at the county’s landfill met with council opposition as well. The new fee is not charged to county residents, who already pay an annual solid waste fee of $53 on their property taxes, but it does apply to intergovernmental agencies.
Arrington read aloud a message from Lawrence Stegner, DCSD director of operations, wherein Stegner referenced numerous instances of the school district waiving fees or giving favorable lease agreements to the county for its use of DCSD-owned properties. In a separate written communication, Stegner asked for “reconsideration” for DCSD being charged to dump yard debris at the landfill.
Kilgo moved to deny this request and received a second from Flowers. Johnson and Hudson voted against this motion, and the School District request was denied by a vote of 5 to 2.
Flowers stated after the vote that he believed imposing this fee is not a case of double taxation, but simply a matter of taking tax dollars paid to DCSD and transferring them to the landfill for providing a service. The new yard debris dumping fee is projected to cost DCSD about $10,000 a year.
In other matters, first reading (no action) was held for Ordinance 15-23, which would refinance and restructure $550,000 in bond debt for the Darlington County Airport, allowing for the near-term purchase of $89,280 in equipment (truck, tractor, and rotary mower) and leaving the balance of bond proceeds for other airport capital needs. The restructuring allows for the purchase of new equipment without increasing the bond’s $67,000 annual payment.
The $2,500 annual contract with Rubicon, Inc. to provide services (counseling, drug screening, and substance abuse help) for county employees was renewed by unanimous consent.
Council also approved an additional expenditure for the new Darlington County Fire District Station 6 at 109 Kingston Road, one of three new substations funded by DCFD’s 1-mill bond of $500,000. Initially the Kingston Road station budget called for a crush and run gravel driveway and parking, but SC Department of Transportation restrictions on driveway location require the use of concrete for those areas. This raises the budget by $23,700 and brings that project total to $117,000. Prior to this change, DCFD had projected costs of $93,000 per station, with Eagle Construction handling the builds.
Darlington County Council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for August 17, delayed due to the Aug. 1 – 5 SCAC Institute of Government & Annual Conference at Hilton Head Island. The Aug. 17 council meeting will begin at 6 pm at the Courthouse Annex located at 1625 Harry Byrd Hwy in Darlington.