New mayor hits the ground running: City moves toward buying $600,000 of land for recreation complex, considers trail system
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
When he was elected Darlington’s new mayor in November, businessman Curtis Boyd said, “I’m looking forward to going to work.”
During his first City Council session as mayor Jan. 7, Boyd did exactly that.
He made no speeches, but within an hour and a half of being sworn in as mayor, Boyd was pitching council a video presentation on the first phase of a proposed system of walking trails for Darlington and jumping into a crowded three-hour agenda that ended with council moving toward buying $600,000 worth of land for a new recreation complex featuring new baseball and softball fields.
In front of a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall, Boyd was sworn into office by a robed Darlington County Coroner Todd Hardee.
Boyd succeeds Gloria Hines, who served four years as the city’s first female and first African-American mayor, but lost nearly 2-1 to Boyd in the Nov. 5 elections.
Also sworn in Jan. 7 were new council member Howard Nettles, who claimed the seat formerly held by Carolyn Bruce, and re-elected council members John Milling and Bryant Gardner. Councilman John Segars was chosen as mayor pro tem (a post that Bruce formerly held).
Boyd said he planned to begin a tradition of inviting local pastors to offer a prayer at the start of every council session. Kyle Meyer, pastor at Dominion Church in Darlington, filled that role at Boyd’s first council session.
Much of Boyd’s first council session focused on recreation issues, as Boyd showed council a video sketching out what he described as the first phase of a system of walking trails around Darlington. Boyd, who runs a chain of gyms, said he’s been interested in a walking-trail system like this for a long time and said it was one of the reasons he first considered running for mayor.
The video showed a drive through, and walk through, areas that might be part of the first phase, including some spots that now are woods and underbrush. Boyd said he’s now thinking in terms of only 1,400 feet of trails to begin with – about $10,000 worth – which he hoped to get from grants.
Council member Sheila Baccus said that the plan – or at least the initial phase of it – didn’t seem to offer much to residents of South Darlington. “The area that you just showed on this video showed this trail running strictly through North Darlington,” Baccus said.
“How does any of this trail affect South Darlington? Why is nothing of South Darlington included in this million-dollar trail? … I am going to say this and then I am going to leave it alone until I see a showing where this is going to go through South Darlington, because if we are spending millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money … it should affect all citizens and it should go somewhere through South Darlington.”
Baccus was told that this was only the initial phase and that the final trail system would be citywide.
Ultimately, council voted to seek more bids for putting a first phase in place before taking a vote on the plan.
Another big recreation proposal was the subject of an executive session.
The city has the opportunity to use already-issued bond money to buy about $600,000 worth of land off Harry Byrd Highway, about 1.25 miles from Darlington Raceway, which would be used for what Recreation Director Lee Andrews called a “recreational complex.”
Throughout the council meeting and on council’s agenda, this project was referred to as “land for ballfields.” But Andrews said it’s much more than that. “We’re not just doing ballfields, we’re doing something for everyone,” he said. Possibilities for the recreation complex remain to be worked out.
But new softball and baseball fields will be a major part of the project, Andrews said. During an Oct. 1, 2019, council meeting, Andrews told council: “We’re playing on ballfields that were built in the ’70s, the ’60s, with the same bathroom facilities.”
After meeting in executive session, council voted to enter into an option with Olin B. Kirven to buy 111 acres off Harry Byrd Highway for roughly $600,000, provided that the final deal satisfies the council. Council also voted to enter into an option with Evans Properties of the Carolinas to buy about $50,000 worth of land adjacent to the other tract. A final deal on this property is pending as well.
Although the land is not in the city limits, annexation is not necessary for the purchase, city officials said.
Andrews said he was pleased that council is moving forward on these projects. “I think we’re in a really good spot (now),” he said.
“We’re trying to raise the quality of life in Darlington. We’re trying to put tax dollars to work for everybody.”
No one has ever really been against recreation, Andrews said, but it generally has not been at the top of the agenda. But Boyd “is a gym owner, so it’s natural for him” to focus on these issues, Andrews said.
In other business:
— Council received a clean audit of the city’s books for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019. This also means the city has eliminated its audit backlog and is current again after falling behind because of past problems with the companies handling the audits, officials have said.
— Council approved a deal that will put $41,000 worth of playground equipment at a softball field the city owns on Old Florence Highway. The arrangement was originally worked out by Boyd, before he took office as mayor, and Andrews. They were offered a 1-percent-interest loan by Pee Dee Electric CEO Mike Fuller to buy the playground equipment while it was still on sale for half-price. On Jan. 7, council OK’d that loan plan.
— Council asked for more bids on replacing the failing heating and air conditioning systems at Harmon Baldwin Gym and A.W. Stanley gym and on replacing worn-out flooring at those gyms.
— Council voted to table a proposal to move the Darlington Chamber of Commerce’s office from the Public Square to the city’s administrative building on Pearl Street. Council members wanted more information on the idea. City Manager Howard Garland told council the idea first came up months ago, when mold problems were developing at the chamber’s current location across from the Courthouse.
Someone suggested moving the chamber’s office to the administrative building, which would put it in the same place with Garland and city planner/Darlington Downtown Revitalization Association director Lisa Chalian-Rock. Also, this would let the city use hospitality-tax funds to improve the administrative building.
But when council asked chamber chief Harriet Hobbs to talk about the proposal, Hobbs said she couldn’t, because she hadn’t been involved with any discussions about it. Councilman John Milling pointed out there was nothing solid enough right now for council to vote on and moved to table the issue until the city could put together a report for council to look at.