County tables business fee proposal

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Darlington County has indefinitely tabled a proposal to charge businesses an annual registration fee, this according to county administrator Terence Arrington who addressed the matter at Darlington County Council’s April 20 meeting.
“That item has been pulled and I haven’t identified a date at which it will be put back on council’s agenda for discussion,” said Arrington.

This business registration fee, proposed as Ordinance 15-10, came up for first reading at council’s March 16 meeting and met with immediate resistance from local business representatives, like the directors of both the Darlington and Hartsville Chambers of Commerce. The proposed $10 fee would be levied countywide, and could include businesses located within municipalities as well as unincorporated areas.

On the regular agenda, council approved final reading for Ordinance 15-09, amending finance codes to formally grant discretional funding powers to the county administrator and allowing the admin to clear interfund transfers of up to $5,000 between departmental activities. That measure is included in the county’s annual budget ordinances, but this amendment ends the need to redraft and include it each year. The amendment also broadens the administrator’s funding discretion to include personnel line items.

Council approved second reading of Ordinance 15-11, requiring a fee be paid for the use of Darlington County facilities for meetings, activities, and functions. The ordinance also removes the Lamar Recreation Center from the list of available facilities since the building has been converted for use as the Lamar Magistrate Office. A revised user fee schedule for county facilities will be drafted, and final reading for this ordinance should take place at council’s May 2 meeting.

Second reading of Ordinance 15-12 was carried over until May. This measure pertains to a FILOT (Fee In Lieu of Taxes) proposal for Sonoco to locate and build a research and development facility in Darlington County, a project that could bring 10 new jobs and an investment of $11.8 million.

Council approved a request to investigate hiring a county grants administrator, a position dedicated to helping Darlington County land more state and federal funding and handling the sometimes daunting paperwork involved in completing grant projects.

“Given the workload that’s involved with grant administration… it can be very cumbersome,” said Arrington. “It is a need for Darlington County… we don’t have anybody on the forefront with USDA, federal agencies, CDBG – we don’t have it, and it’s strongly recommended, especially for lower income areas that need funds from the state.”

Council member Le Flowers asked how the position would be funded, and Arrington replied that creating a grants administrator position is entirely contingent on finding adequate money in the budget. Council member Wilhelmina Johnson questioned the minimum necessary qualifications for such a position, and Arrington explained that staff would survey other counties with similar positions when drafting a job description.

In other matters, council approved a request to waive fees for plan review and building permits for up to two houses per year for Habitat for Humanity. Earlier in the meeting, council heard from Darlington County Habitat for Humanity director Mark Haenchen, who asked for support in continuing the organization’s work in our community.

“Since 1996, we’ve worked to build affordable, decent homes in Darlington County. Yesterday, we just dedicated our thirty-eighth home,” said Haenchen. “I come here tonight to ask for your assistance in trying to keep our homes as affordable as possible.”

The fees council agreed to waive represent about $1,813 per house, with $511 going toward plan review, $1,002 for a building permit, $100 for an electrical permit, $100 for a plumbing permit, and $100 for a mechanical permit. This fee-waiving provision will be reconsidered by council each year.

Author: Jana Pye

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