Council votes themselves raises

Resident Andrea Knapp addresses the members of council at July meeting. Photo by Jana E. Pye

Resident Andrea Knapp addresses the members of council at July meeting.
Photo by Jana E. Pye

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

Editor’s note: In preparing the story of the Darlington City Council meeting held on July 14, members of the community seemed most interested in one topic – the vote to raise their pay. Hence, the headline.

As the editor of this paper, however, I feel that every item on the agenda is important. That being said, the story will be sectioned off as it was in the agenda –in order.

Darlington Downtown Revitalization Association:
Lisa Chalian-Rock, Director of the Darlington Downtown Revitalization Association (DDRA) addressed council, and shared that the board is working on two loan applications for the Build Up Darlington program. Rock showed one of the 30 banners purchased to line Pearl Street for the last week in August during Race Week to direct visitors to the downtown area. The flags combine the City of Darlington tree logo with a racecar and checkered flag and may be used for other events throughout the year.

A Downtown Christmas Market is planned for December 12 at Trinity UMC with arts and crafts, food, and entertainment from local performers. The remaining Market on Darlington Square events will be held Saturday August 1, September 5 and October 3 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce:
Jannie Lathan addressed the council on behalf of the Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, as former director Hannah Stanley completed her last day in the office on July 6. Stanley resigned to accept a marketing and sales position with the Hampton Inn in Hartsville. Lathan said the Chamber’s wildly successful July 4th Freedom Fest had a final attendance tally of between 24,000 – 25,000 for the second year of the event. “On behalf of the board, we want to give special thanks to the City of Darlington, our 22 sponsors, board member Chip Wile and his team at Darlington Raceway, Darlington County Sheriff Wayne Byrd and the entire sherff’s department – we had no incidents whatsoever.”

Lathan said that 15 food vendors received over $40,000 in sales for the 4 – 5 hours they sold items at the event, making it a very successful night for them in mid summer- typically slow in the Pee Dee. Merchandise vendors had a successful evening as well. Councilwoman Dyan Cohen asked if the vendors were local; according to Lathan, most were local and/or Chamber members.

The Chamber board is actively pursuing a new director, with hopes to fill the position by August. The board plans to elect new officers, and will proceed with plans underway change the due date for annual membership fees date to October for all members.

Citizens appearing before council:
Linwood Epps addressed council beginning with a suggestion to for council and meeting attendees to stand for the opening prayer, and remain standing for the Pledge of Allegiance.

In reference to agenda item for proposed purchase of asphalt packing machine, he nominated Camellia Park (his address) for first project.
Second question: “Discussion raised for raise for mayor and city council – just one question- is it in the budget? If you are going to give a raise, is it already in the budget? Or are you talking about raises in 2016?”

Howard Garland, city manager, responded: “It would go to first and second reading if council – like we talked in budget work session, it wouldn’t take effect until January. That would be in the middle of the 2015-2016 budget. Our budget year does not run calendar year; it runs July 1 to June 30.

“So if it takes effect 2016, it wouldn’t take effect until July?” asked Epps.

Garland replied, “Technically by law it could take effect January 1st, but council would decide whenever it would start after the next election. Technically, it could start December 1st – or it could start January 1st.

“Not this calendar year.” Added Tony Watkins, Mayor of Darlington.

Andrea Knapp addressed council next, and stated that she lives on Woods Street, and a 40 – 50 foot tree fell on her street three months ago in the middle of the night. “It took out power, cable, everything. It took a month for the city to come out to cut the tree down – cut it into chunks to make it look halfway reasonable,” said Knapp. “Right now, we have a big hole in a sidewalk. The sidewalk is raised at least two feet… there is literally a 3 foot hole.” Knapp went on to describe how she must maneuver in the road when she takes her grandson on a walk in his wagon, avoiding the hole and people that park on the side of the road. She also mentioned that her neighbor had a brick wall that was demolished. “So, it fell three months ago. It took a month for the city to cut the tree into chunks. It stayed there it looks trashed. There are cones, and yellow tape tied around trees, it looks like a crime scene. It’s a mess. People are now driving past and throwing trash in the hole. All you see is cones, yellow crime scene tape and garbage in the hole. It’s dangerous it’s a busy street. Three months later…I have a 6-foot stump. Why did it take the city three months to leave my street looking like it does, but on Spring St and Cashua, trees are cleared up and moved straight away? I understand those are busy streets, but Woods Street is a busy street too.”

City planner Lisa Rock responded. “The tree you are talking about is actually scheduled to come down tomorrow. We could not replace the sidewalk until that tree was also removed because if we put new sidewalk and we removed the tree we’d have to tear up the sidewalk we just replaced.”
Garland noted that the owner of the house with the damaged brick wall had submitted an insurance claim.

“I can’t tell you why one (road) is cleared before another, except I guess where it was an due to the amount of traffic, and I don’t know if I can speculate,” said Mayor Watkins. “We can look into it and let you know.”

Knapp continued with a second comment regarding difficulty opening her business in Darlington. “I opened a business on South Main Street last year, a photography studio. We rented a building we went to the city hall …basically, it was a vacant building so we wanted to find out what permits we needed, what we needed to do to get in shape electric wise. The city does not have what we would call rules we needed to go by as far as getting this place fixed up.” Knapp related frustration on not getting direct instructions. “We were told there is not a booklet, a guideline, it was ‘get your business ready and then we’ll send somebody out’,” said Knapp. “Darlington is begging for new businesses. Into town. there are so many vacant storefronts. For me to be a new business coming into town – getting no – not necessarily recognition, or publicity for opening my business- I did that myself on Facebook and everything else- but we received zero help from the city. When we applied for a permit, something in that permit department should have alerted somebody that a new business is coming to town. Maybe the chamber of commerce needs to come around maybe so and so needs to come around and talk to those people. No one came around. There was absolutely nothing to bring a new business into town. Nothing… If somebody was to say I am thinking about opening a new business in the town square, I’d say, well good luck with that. There’s nothing.”

Watkins responded, “There are a couple of people in this room that are listening and one is Henry Chapman (new codes enforcement officer, hired after Knapp arrived), and the other is Lisa. (Rock, Director of DDRA and city planner)

Knapp continued. “And like I said, any interaction I’ve had with Lisa since the fact has been awesome. She is good at what she does. But from Day 1 until we officially opened, we’d been opened six months, someone said Lisa is the person you need to get in touch with- there is nothing on any sort of website that says Lisa is the person to go to if you want to go to business in Darlington, come here.

Councilwoman Gloria Hines asked, “Are you open yet?”

“I’ve been open a year!” exclaimed Knapp.

“Your experience is very important to us,” said Watkins. “And I am sorry, and I think we need to make sure we understand what Miss Knapp’s situation was and I can say that it is universal…. Believe me, we don’t want that to happen to anyone else. And everything honestly – I hate that happened to you. I hate that happened to anybody. And we don’t want that to happen again. Your words have not fallen on deaf ears.”

Knapp replied, “Could there be a plan implemented within two months?

“We can certainly talk to Lisa about that,” said Watkins. “And if we need to make changes, we will make changes.”

Councilman Jimmy Cooper offered that there is a program already in existence with the Municipal Association that may be used. “There is a template that we can use to start right here in Darlington.”

Ms. Jett addressed council with residents of the Chalmers Street neighborhood, which has been plagued with malodorous issues from what is known as “The Ditch.”

“First question is, what have you heard from DHEC?” said Jett.

Watkins relayed that the item was next on the agenda.

Jett went on to ask, “What are you doing to control the scent? Is it possible the ditch could be closed? Does it have to be opened up? Could you close it up? It’s all stopped up, there is no drainage.”

Watkins replied, “Not without serious flooding problems. It carries water away from residential areas that is their purpose if you were to close them up without putting in very large pipes or drains in them.”

Howard Garland stood to address Ms. Jett. “Mr. Brown is going to talk about a long term plan for dealing with around Chalmers Street as it relates specifically to from Edwards Avenue onward over to Washington, but I wanted to address the neighbors in that area first. I don’t usually do this, but my wife says I take things too personally, but this is my hometown. I’m not going to let it pass. We are going to fix this. I promise you we’ll fix it.”

Garland continued, “It’s just going to take some time. It may take a year; it may take a year and a half. But we have two things that are a concern here. One is the health and welfare of the citizens that live in that area, and the other is the jobs of the people that work there at the oil mill. How do you balance the two? I don’t know that, but we are trying to work with the oil mill and being proactive and make sure they do what they are supposed to do. We are also working with the railroad company since they own the railroad, and they own the right of way around that. We worked up to the right of way as much as we can. And until we get permission from the railroad, we can’t do anything… until the railroad gives the City of Darlington and the contractor permission, we can’t go on that side.”

“And I put this up as a track record, folks, the work that we’ve done in South East Darlington …we put over $700,000 storm drainage improvements in their neighborhood where they live. Folks, I speak historically. Government has not cared about some of these areas before, but they have in the last five years. We are doing everything we can, and we are applying for every grant that we can, We are just about bankrupt in our town trying to match grants. As soon as we finish grant storm water and sewer we are putting in for another one.”

Chalmers Street Ditch Update:
David Brown updated council and community members. “One issue we have to look at …the bad section, the one with the most people, flattest grades that holds the most water, is Short Chalmers. We’ve done field work from Broad Street all the way across from Pearl down to the creek, the county has been real helpful with topo (topography) stuff and radar – done some modeling in there. So what we have done here is picked out the section in the middle that we feel is the worst section. It runs approximate from little bit before Short Street to a little bit past Washington Street. We have to go a little bit past Washington because that is where our grade starts we have to pick up a little bit of extra grade there. We are forced to go on the railroad tracks, that is going to be expensive and across Washington but that is what is needed to solve the problem. Our cost estimate …is approximately 2000 feet 48” pipes with all the accessories it needs, it’s about $475,000 dollars.”

Garland said that the city plans to fund this through another rural infrastructure authority grant. “We hope to have this work completed by December 2016- roughly 17 months from now.”

Brown added, “I would like to mention while we have all the stake holders here. The one thing we are going to need is easements. We’ll have some people in the area talking to people about easements. Please help those guys. They’ll be marking; they will identify themselves and all. Talk to your neighbors. Some of those pipes will be 48”, those are big pipes, so we are gonna need a like 20 foot easement to go along some of those lot lines.”

Brown continued. “One purpose of all this work is to make sure that we got to go deep enough so wec an drain those areas. Like I said, the problem is simply when it goes past Washington, it drops; these ditches were not dug on very good grade, so when something happens, they didn’t take everything into consideration like I hope we are taking now. We are going to work to get that water out. To get it right, it’s a pretty big effort.”

Second Reading on Ordinance 2015-08: Approval of Tax Anticipation Notice
Approved with unanimous vote. Watkins noted that the city would incur many expenses with the anticipated preparation for the arrival of Walmart, with approximately $300,000 in infrastructure. The tax revenue will be key in assisting with this.

Second Reading on Ordinance 2015-09: Master Bond Ordinance and Second Reading on Ordinance 2015-10: Refinance Water/Sewer Bond
Attorney Ben Ziegler addressed council; “These go together,” said Zeigler. “I was here back in May talking about refinancing existing water and sewer revenue bonds, talked a little bit about protecting structure of revenue bonds outstanding.”

Council voted to approve recommendations to borrow against the revenue of the water and sewer system to make further improvements.

Second Reading on Ordinance 2015-11: Continuance of Tax Levy of 125 Mills”
Council voted once again to not raise taxes for residents, continuing the tax levy of 125 mills. The vote passed unanimously. “We do it every year,” said Watkins.

Second Reading on Ordinance 2015-12: Continuance of Business License Tax”
No discussion, ordinance approved by another unanimous vote.

Wade Baker, regarding Street Trees at 146 Spring Street
Baker addressed council with concerns about trees in front of his home, which were deemed dangerous by botanists. “I water them, I prune them,” said Baker. Council agreed to keep an eye on the trees, stating that they use two arborists to insure that there is two opinions on each tree.
Several trees have fallen in recent months, causing damage to homes in and out of the city limits.

City Policy/Curbside Furniture by Councilwoman Gloria Hines
Discussion on whether it would be worthwhile to rescind the ordinance to fine people who set out items on the curb weighted by the esthetics of just taking care of it were discussed.

Discussion of Asphalt Packing Machine by Mayor Tony Watkins
Council discussed merits of purchasing an asphalt packing machine to do repairs locally when and if DOT does not fill areas in the city limits.

Discussion Raise for Mayor and City Council
“I have no dog in this vote – others will be here, and you don’t do this job for money. Everybody knows that. It’s good to know that you are rewarded financially in some way for what you do. We have a uniform pay rate for mayor and council- presently mayor gets $6,000, and council makes $3,500 per year.” Watkins, who already announced he will not seek another term in office, said, “I must vote, putting it out to pleasure of council.”
Council sat silent until councilwoman Gloria Hines said, “Everybody is scared to talk because it’s an election year, but everybody knows ..if you are doing your job, you don’t mind. I know Florence gets $10,000 and health insurance. I think Hartsville gets…”

Garland responded, “ Mayor gets $8,000, and council gets $6,000.”

“And health insurance,” added Hines. “In Darlington, we don’t get that. We don’t get health insurance. When I first got on council in 2008 it was $2,500. Um, they said the same thing. I work for mine. $3500 a year is not a lot of money, okay? Like $53 or $54 a week. I get called out a lot. I answer the call. It’s up to council whatever we do; it’s fine with me. We don’t get health insurance. With Hartsville getting $6,000 and health insurance, that is like $10,000 -12,000 a year. I know Florence is a larger city and they get about $10,000 – that runs about $13, $14,000 a year.”
Mayor Tony Watkins interjected, “On the health insurance, it is available (to council) but they have to pay.”

“That is what I am saying I mean,” she said. “Florence gets it for free along with $10,000 and Hartsville gets $6,000 along with the healh insurance.”

She looked back at council.

“Are you all scared because it’s an election year?

Councilwoman Dyan Cohen spoke up. “I move that we raise the compensation for the mayor to – from $6,000 to $8,500, and raise the council members from $3,500 to $5,000.”

Cohen has already announced she will not see reelection, joining Watkins by stepping aside.

“ It’s still not a lot of money, but we are not here to make money.” said Cohen.

“I think the city manager said it would be better for us to get a raise than to get health insurance,” said Hines. “Because it would be higher with the health insurance instead of the raise.”

Garland reminded council they must have a first and second reading.

Councilman Jimmy Cooper asked, “The motion is to make an increase with or without health insurance?”

Garland continued. “It makes sense to start with budget year which starts in July.”

Hines said, “I amend motion that pay rate won’t start until July of next year, 2016.”

Motion was seconded by Cohen

Councilman John Segars asked, “Can we afford that increase?

Garland replied, “It’s not a lot of money. I think each council member should, frankly, talk to their constituents. This more of a budgetary issue, it’s more of a ‘how do the people in my ward feel about this’ and ‘how do the people in my neighborhood feel about this’ frankly. That’s my honest opinion.”

The vote passed 5 – 2.

All in favor: Gloria Hines, Wayne Chapman, Mayor Tony Watkins, Mayor Pro Tem Coleman Cannon, and Dyan Cohen.

Nay votes: Jimmy Cooper, and John Segars.

Darlington County School District Request: Haynesworth House
The historical structure known as The White House, former home of Mayor Haynesworth on the campus of St. John Elementary School, has been in decline for decades. The Darlington County School District requested permission to rid the structure of dangerous asbestos, which was granted by City Council. The structure was set to be deomolished after years of trying to give it away, but interest by Marion resident R. Lee Wilson wishing to move the building to land he has purchased on Black Creek has been found by city planner Lisa Rock. The gentleman has promised to maintain the historic ties to Darlington with keeping a historical marker, and agreed to annex his future home site into the city limits to insure that it will be protected by the Historic Landmarks Commission in future years.

CDBG Southwest Darington Sewer Line Bid Approval
City voted in favor of recommendation to accept the bid to go forward on the ongoing project.

Boards and Commission Vacancies- Lisa Chalian-Rock
Rock noted that interested individuals are strongly encouraged to contact her, or visit the city website at www.darlingtonsconline.com for applications to serve on the following boards and commissions:

Board of Zoning Appeals: three seats available.

Mr. Calvin King and MR. Charles Russell expressed interest, and were approved by council.

Historical Landmarks Commission: five seats, two alternate seats
Mrs. Carolyn Abbott agreed to serve another term, and Mr. Joseph Wensink of West Broad Street suggested interest in serving.
Planning Commission: two seats available
Tree Board: three seats, two alternate seats available

Executive Session: Discussion of Raise and Contract for City Manager Howard Garland
Council met in executive session and voted unanimously to approve a raise for Garland from $75,5000 to $80,000 and for he, Mayor Tony Watkins, and City Attorney Albert James, Jr. to enter into contract negations for a two-year contract.

To note: it is rare for city managers across the nation to not have a contract.

Author: Duane Childers

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