County deems courthouse ‘appointment only’ during pandemic
By Samantha Lyles
Even as South Carolina’s non-essential businesses shut down this past week to slow the spread of the coronavirus, local government entities are finding ways to hold public meetings and continue doing the people’s business.
In that spirit, members of Darlington County Council donned protective gear and met in person April 6, with several feet of space between them. A live broadcast of that meeting was available on Facebook @DarlingtonCountyCouncilLive.
Council approved an emergency precautionary measure allowing their meetings to be conducted electronically while the threat of COVID-19 continues. This would allow members to log in remotely and meet in a secured online space rather than risking another in-person session.
County administrator Charles Stewart also announced that as of April 9, the Darlington County Courthouse would be open by appointment only to reduce crowding and increase safety.
“We have been bringing the public in downstairs and we may have 10 or 15 people in that lobby at one time. Under the current threat and recommendations by the CDC, it’s not best to continue to operate that way,” said Stewart.
Persons wishing to conduct business with any county office located inside the courthouse should call that office first and arrange an appointment. Stewart said that if you arrive at the courthouse without an appointment, please call up to the office you wish to visit and they should be able to accommodate you within a matter of minutes.
Vice Chairman Lewis Brown ran the meeting in the absence of Chairman Bobby Hudson. Brown opened with public hearings for two ordinances and offered to take any public comments via a special phone line. No comments were received.
The first item up for public hearing and final reading was Ordinance 19-14, a FILOT agreement designed to support Georgia-Pacific’s planned investment of $142 million to upgrade its Darlington facility.
This Fee In Lieu of Taxes agreement will drop the company’s tax assessment ratio from 10.5 percent to 6 percent for its manufacturing property. The agreement also authorizes a 16-year, 25 percent spe- cial source revenue credit. According to the an extract included in the March agenda package, the county believes that the incentive package “is critical to landing the $142 million investment and preserving a valuable base of employment and jobs in the county.”
Georgia-Pacific had previously announced its intent to close the current cup manufacturing plant and invest in a new, upgraded plate manufacturing facility. Some job loss is anticipated, but the company pledged to retrain workers and offer transfers to those who could not be placed in Darlington.
The disposal of the cup facility is anticipated to reduce tax revenues at the facility by $80,000 to $100,000 per year. The new FILOT agreement should yield net payments to Darlington County of $48 million over a 30-year period.
Council approved the FILOT ordinance without objections.
The other public hearing and final reading pertained to Ordinance 19-15, which includes the Georgia-Pacific project in the industrial park jointly held by Darlington County and Lee County. Council also approved this measure without objections.
In other matters, Council again carried over final reading of Ordinance 20-01, the updated Darlington County Comprehensive Plan. Council had previously held up finalizing this plan so members could discuss it and workshop some of the ideas further, but those plans are now on indefinite hold.
A title-only (no vote) first reading was held for Ordinance 20-02, the county’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget.
Brown provided a phone number citizens may call if they have questions about Darlington County government operations during the pandemic: 843-398-4469.
The next meeting of Darlington County Council is scheduled for May 4 at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse Annex located at 1624 Harry Byrd Hwy in Darlington. The meeting will be broadcast online, either on Facebook @DarlingtonCountyCouncilLive or through another venue which the county would publicize through their social media and local news outlets.
Due to the COVID-19 Threat, Citizens’ Comments are accepted in writing via email to the Clerk to Council at firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the County Administrator’s Office, 1 Public Square, Room 210, Darlington, SC 29532. Written comments must be received by noon on the day of the meeting.