Hartsville Mayor gives State of City address
By Stephan Drew, Editor
“Tonight, I have the honor to speak with you about the state of the City of Hartsville”. With those words, Hartsville Mayor Casey Hancock began his address to those gathered on Tuesday evening, February 28, 2023, in the Elizabeth Boatwright Coker Performing Arts Center, located at 300 E. College Avenue.
After thanking his staff, City Council, Rev. Jim Blue and others who have been steadfast in their support, Hancock related some advice he received from former mayor Mel Pennington. “He said, ‘If you just serve the office for Hartsville,” Hancock stated, “to do the right thing and the best thing for Hartsville every time, to make Hartsville better, you don’t have to worry about it. I’ve taken that to heart.”
Hancock discussed Hartsville’s credit rating, which affects the city’s ability to borrow money for necessary projects and improvements. Reading a document from Standard and Poor’s (S&P) Global Credit Ratings Division, Hancock reported, “S&P Global Ratings affirm it’s A+ Long-Term rating on our Water Works/Sewer System Improvement Degree Funding Bonds and it’s a Long-Term rating on our Combined System Improvement Bonds.” Continuing with the financial state of the city, Hancock stated, “Our revenues are up and our expenditures are down. And, our reserve funds, which is our rainy day/emergency fund, is at 29.36% of our annual expenditures.” The mayor did not take full credit for this, reminding attendees that, in December 2020, long before his term began, the City Council passed a Reserve Fund Policy. This policy charged city staff with increasing and maintaining the city’s reserve fund from 17% to 30%, which is the recommended range for cities of this size, across the nation. The policy allowed 3 years for the city to reach 17%. “Our city staff, got to 30% in just 2 years,” Hancock stated, “That, ladies and gentlemen, is remarkable.”
Mayor Hancock described other creative and fiscally-sound ways that Hartsville City Staff achieved their present financial prosperity and how they planned to use the money judiciously. “Over the last 4 years, 2019 to present, the city was awarded about $8.2 million in grant funds,” Hancock said, adding, “as of yesterday, we have submitted applications for almost $14 million more dollars in grant money on top of that and, most of those grants come with little or no match (matching funds from the city).” Hancock also outlined the city’s plans for the money. “Those grants are for things like a new water tower to serve clean water at good pressure for you and your family,” Hancock stated, “things like expansion of our wastewater treatment facility to be able to take on (extend the water system to) more roads, residential, commercial and otherwise, throughout the city. Things like new stormwater pipes to tackle our flooding issues that exist across town.” He continued the list, including a new fire truck and safety equipment for first responders. “These projects have a long-lasting impact,” he said, “to make sure Hartsville is good.” “So your city,” Hancock continued, “I am proud to tell you, is financially sound and our council is very proud of that.”
The mayor further reported that the city is working to improve city water/sewer lines to eliminate flooding, investing in the Prestwood area to repair sinkhole damage, cleaning up dilapidated buildings and working to eliminate an overabundance of leaves around town. “We’re investing to fix the big things,” Hancock said, “but we’re also keeping in mind the little things too. Fix what we have and do the little stuff to maintain the city we have and to make it even better. Most importantly,” Hancock stated, “we’re investing in all this to invest back in you, the citizens who we serve. If that’s not the whole point of this, I don’t know what is.”
Hancock reported that city revenues are growing, even though the census shows a decrease in population. Latest census figures show that Hartsville’s number of residents has decreased by approximately 200 people. The present population of 7,446 resides within 5.99 miles but, as the mayor reminded the crowd, “we actually host 40,000 people per day” within the city limits, a 600% growth in population each day. The mayor reported that there is a 93% occupancy rate in Downtown Hartsville, and they are working to have the remaining few storefronts occupied as well. He also told the crowd that the Neptune Waterpark, which had approximately 90,000 visitors last year, is the largest employer of youth in the Pee Dee area.
Hancock proudly spoke of Hartsville’s educational position as he reminded the crowd, “Hartsville is the only true college town in the Pee Dee. We have this awesome university right here. We have the Cobras, the Red Foxes and the Eagles.” Paraphrasing Hartsville City Councilmember Bryson Caldwell, Hancock stated, “We are a championship city. Not because of me but, because of all of you.” He also spoke of the extensive refurbishment project going on at the old Butler High School (now Butler Heritage Foundation) and the planned installation of a $500,000 city surveillance camera system which should begin soon. “It will allow officers to identify and find suspects and stop crime within minutes instead of hours,” he said, “and they can do that without sitting in an office.”
Mayor Hancock announced that the city is getting closer to hiring a new head of the police department after the resignation of Chief Jerry Thompson. He also thanked Hillary Romden who, working with Lock It with Love, the Hartsville Police Department and the Darlington County Sheriff’s Department, has distributed over 140 gun locks to the community through three public events. He reassured the crowd of the city’s commitment to continue development of the land near the Governors School at 4th Street and the area between 4th Street and 5th Street, and along S. 5th Street and Hwy. 151.
On the city’s ranking with the Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC), which evaluates and grades each city, town or municipality’s council, Hancock stated, “This city council is one of only 10% of city councils that are on the honor roll and our council is very proud of that. We cooperate on every level in order to provide you with good service.” He also reported that Hartsville’s businesses not only survived during the COVID pandemic, they found ways to thrive. “Hartsville is better than it has to be,” Hancock said, “because you are better than you have to be.”
In conclusion, Hancock announced the beginning of the South Hartsville Corridor Redevelopment Project and stated that the city had applied for an additional $1 million for Phase I work on the 6th Street area of the project. He also outlined his final priority. “One united Hartsville,” he said, “Hartsville cannot realize its full potential until all of Hartsville looks as good as its best, until all of Hartsville shares the civic pride that allows it to feel engaged, invested and proud of where they live.”