County COVID aid: Nearly $13 million
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
A nearly $13 million COVID-relief package from the federal government is on its way to Darlington County. Now county officials have to decide how to spend it. “I think we could do a lot with it,” said County Council member Angie Stone Godbold, who represents the Darlington area on council. “I think it can have a wonderful impact on Darlington County if we put our heads together.” And there’s no hurry: The county has until 2024 to obligate the money and until 2026 to spend it, County Administrator Charles Stewart told County Council last week. “It is a very, very broad, wide swath of areas you can spend it in,” Stewart said at council’s Sept. 13 meeting. “ … Y’all would need to sit down and have a work session, probably more than one work session, to be honest with you, to talk about where you want to spend this money and where your priorities will be in spending this money.” The funds, part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, are aimed at getting states, cities and counties out of the hole that the past 18 months of the pandemic have put them in. Locally, it’s been announced that the City of Darlington will be getting nearly $3 million in ARP money; the City of Hartsville expects to get $3.7 million. The federal aid for Darlington County “has the potential for a current and ongoing significant impact,” Stewart said. Godbold would like to see as much input as possible into how the funds are spent, including public hearings and citizen surveys. Her personal priorities would include countywide broadband Internet – “It’s important to children; it’s important to families” — and infrastructure work to prevent flooding. Some of the federal money has already been committed by the county — $1.8 million of it will go toward “COVID bonuses,” retroactive extra money for county employees in jobs where they didn’t have the option of working from home, jobs that required them to interact closely with the public, such as law enforcement, first responders or county agency employees who had to deal directly with the public. “That is the only obligation that has been made, so far,” Stewart said. Much of that bonus money goes to employees of two front-line agencies – the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office and the county EMS. Together, those two agencies account for more than $400,000 of the federal “bonus” money. Here is the county’s breakdown of how the “COVID bonuses,” also known as “premium pay,” will be paid out by department: County Administration $24,750 Auditor’s Office $11,250 Coroner’s Office $3,000 Veteran’s Affairs Office $4,500 Registration/Election Commission $150,594 Treasurer’s Office $15,750 Tax Collector’s Office $6,750 Tax Assessor’s Office $18,000 Roads and Bridges $34,481 Correctional Center $87,295 Building Maintenance $2,250 Fleet Services $9,000 Prison Camp $38,767 Probate Court $11,250 Clerk of Court $38,250 Magistrates $24,750 Sheriff’s Department $230,250 Fire District $113,214 DSS $2,250 Public Safety/Comm. $12,562 EMS $180,800 Emergency Prep $3,000 Central Communications $60,224 Economic Development $4,500 Planning $15,750 Airport $3,000 Parks and Recreation $18,000 Historical Commission $9,000 Library $75,009 Environmental/Landfill $106,811 School Crossing Guards $28,755 In other business at its Sept. 13 meeting, council made some adjustments in the county budget including adding two positions at the landfill and raising county correctional officers’ salaries to a level equal to that of surrounding counties. Council also passed a resolution endorsing a “fee in lieu of taxes” agreement for Pee Dee Electric Cooperative. Stewart could not provide details, but he said Pee Dee Co-Op is planning a $9.5 million investment in the county.