County Council discusses land buyout proposal
By Stephan Drew, Editor
On Monday, September 14, Darlington County Council met at the Elizabeth Boatwright Coker Performing Arts Center in Hartsville to discuss a proposed land buyout program. The South Carolina Office of Resilience (SCOR), established in September of 2020, sponsors the Mitigation Buyout Program, which aids those whose home has been damaged due to flooding and other water issues. The program aims to help with housing recovery following a federally-declared disaster, mitigation against future flood risks and resilience planning.
This week, representatives from SCOR came to Hartsville to meet with council and concerned citizens. Tessa Baran, SCOR Plans and Studies/Match Program Coordinator, made a lengthy presentation, explaining what they do, the requirements for joining the program and the complete process involved from start to finish. As she stated, “The first step is data gathering, where we met with members of county council, members and representatives of the City of Hartsville, City of Darlington, Town of Lamar, Town of Society Hill, Public Works, and legal representatives to find out where stormwater issues are.” There were also open public meetings held in Hartsville, Darlington, Lamar and Society Hill.
The study has already begun and those who haven’t signed up to participate in the program may have problems. Baran said, “Unfortunately, we have closed out the part of the study where the firm can go around and walk with the residents and spend time in that ‘boots on the ground’ effort. They have sent out mailers and have conducted a great public outreach effort. But, if it’s something like an entire community has been missed, we can certainly talk afterwards.” Council member Joyce Thomas asked County Administrator Charles Stewart, “They don’t have time to go back and do anything?” Stewart responded, “It’s almost impossible to add additional areas for people who didn’t come forward during that extensive outreach program. All households got mailers and there were four public meetings. So, to ask someone who didn’t come forward during that time now, they won’t have time to go back and do that research.” “So, if you missed it, you just missed out? Because the district that I represent, some don’t have transportation. The mailing is not good. I’m the spokesperson for those people and I want to make sure that everybody has gotten a chance.” Baran agreed to speak with anyone who may have been left out and to do whatever she could to try and facilitate them. “But, I can’t make any promises,” Baran said.
Baran described what comes next. “They’re going to conduct a benefit-cost analysis. The best way to think about that is ‘is the bang worth the buck’,” she said. Baran stated the next step after that is a Labour-Market Impact (LMI) assessment, “We will take these solutions and put them into applications for infrastructure,” Baran said.
The total budget for the Buyout Program is $35 million and $19.5 million of that amount has already been awarded. The program allows for up to $250,000 per home with an additional $5,000 to be given for moving expenses. There is also a further amount of $25,000 which will be awarded to those of low-income and middle-income status. Therefore, some residents in the program could receive as much as $280,000.
If you participate and your property is approved for the program, it is still time-consuming. Nancy Miramonti, SCOR Buyout Program Manager said, “It will take a full 12 months to complete the entire process but, homeowners can opt out at anytime, up until the day of closing.” If a resident does take part in the program, SCOR will purchase their property, demolish it, level the land and make it a “green space”. Afterward, no structure is allowed and the property can never be developed for residential or commercial use. Councilmember Albert Davis III stated, “If we don’t have a landowner then, that means we can’t get any tax money off of it.” Miramonti responded, “Yes, if they move out of the area. That is one of the issues that council has to realize. You don’t want to lose your tax base.” One resident, who didn’t give her name, asked council to think of other things than just taxes. “When you’re flooding, leaving your home in a boat, having your furniture flooded, your car flooded under the carport, and constantly worrying every time there’s a heavy rain, it’s hard and I’m tired. I’m just tired and I hope council will think of what’s best for the people.”
Councilmember Angie Godbold assured the resident, “You mentioned the tax base. For me, that’s not my primary focus. My focus is to do what’s best for the citizens in whatever area that might be.” Thomas agreed, “I’ve seen some conditions. It’s bad and it’s rough. We are concerned about the health and welfare of everybody here in Darlington County. We are a caring group of people and we are concerned. Tax base is good sometimes but, you think about other things too. We just want to help people.”
A preliminary report is expected next month and council will make a decision then. For more information on the program, please contact them at https://scor.sc.gov/.
In other business, council approved the first reading of Ordinance 22-14, which provides for the issuance and sale of General Obligation Bonds up to $685,000. It also prescribes the purposes for which the proceeds may be spent. Council also passed a motion to purchase 10 self-contained breathing apparatus units for the Fire Department.
The next county council meeting is scheduled for October 3rd.