Sewage problems cause emotions to run high at City Council meeting

Darlington City Councilwoman Sheila Baccus (left) points at Director of Public Works Charles Shugart (right) as he addresses council during the May 2nd meeting. PHOTO BY STEPHAN DREW

By Stephan Drew, Editor

During the Darlington City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, tempers flared regarding a recent sewage flow into a Darlingtonian’s home.

A Spring Street resident reported to council that her home was flooded with raw sewage for more than 22 hours over the Easter weekend, leaving her yard ruined, as well as two rooms of her house and all of her furniture destroyed. Crews from the water and sewer department worked approximately 9 days to stop the flow and remove all debris and waste in her yard caused by the damage. The City of Darlington sent a company which removed all damaged drywall, flooring and insulation caused by the incident. The resident stated she has spent the past few weeks cleaning her home continuously but, neither she nor her family were able to relax in the home, sitting on a cement floor and watching a television which is plugged into an outlet between two studs.  She also stated she is facing a $7,000 cleaning bill which she is unable to pay. “I didn’t cause this,” she stated to council, “the City needs to make me whole.” 

Director of Public Works Charles Shugart approached the podium to explain what had occurred. He reminded council of the heavy rains that weekend and stated that his crews jetted and rodded several sewer lines and also responded with the vac truck to help in removing the excess. His crews worked 16 hours on Saturday and approximately 10 hours on Sunday removing material from the sewer lines. “People are flushing whole bed sheets, pillowcases, whole towels and lots of plastic,” Shugart said. He stated that city workers have removed entire truckloads of sheets, towels, feminine products and other unflushable items from the lines. “People put stuff in sewers that they should not,” Shugart stated. 

City Councilwoman Sheila Baccus addressed Shugart and stated, “So this sewage ran into this woman’s home for 22 hours and you all did nothing about it.” Shugart retorted, “Yes Ma’am, we did do something about it. You’re wrong. We were working on it the whole time.” The exchange got louder as Baccus accused Shugart of inaction and Shugart stated that Baccus knew about these problems long ago and did nothing. City Councilman John Milling asked Shugart to leave the council chamber and Shugart did. City Manager John Payne asked Sheila Jones of Codes Enforcement to address council regarding the situation. Jones stated that a sub-grade toilet was installed in the residence and, it is possible, that there was not proper drainage to that commode. There was never a permit pulled on this so no inspection of the toilet was done when it was installed. The toilet in question is the one through which the sewage was flowing into the home. Mayor Curtis Boyd agreed to confer with the resident and City Manager Payne agreed to contact the City’s insurance adjuster to see what could be done to assist the resident.

City Council approved the First Reading of Ordinance 2023-06 for Fiscal Year 2024 Budget in Title Only. City Manager Payne said he will schedule upcoming budget workships, beginning in late May and early June. The council has until June 30 to approve the final reading of the budget, which will begin July 1st.

In other business, council approved the First reading of Ordinance 2023-04, the Property Tax Levy, which keeps the millage at 129.9793 with no increase to property taxes. Council also voted to give $12,450 to the Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce to fund the upcoming Freedom Fest event, scheduled for late June. Before the Grants Committee was set up last year, council had always funded this expense directly. Councilwoman Sheila Baccus asked why the request for funds did not go through the Grants Committee, which was set up for that purpose. City Manager Payne explained that, since council only allocated $35,000 to the Grants Committee for disbursement, he separated the Freedom Fest request. Councilman Bryant Gardner asked, “So, do you want fireworks or not?” Councilman Howard Nettles stated, “No fireworks, no Freedom Fest.” The request was approved with Baccus voting no. “Because it was not properly done,” she stated.

City Manager Payne released a report detailing infrastructure spending (through grants and expenditures) by Ward for the past 13 years, from 2010 to 2023. Ward 1, represented by Councilwoman Sheila Baccus, received $13,453,555 (55%). Ward 2, represented by Councilwoman Elaine Reed, received $6,796,042 (28%). Ward 3, represented by Councilman John Segars, received $2,185,323 (9%). Joint Projects in Wards 1 and 2, represented by Councilwomen Baccus and Reed, received $1,845,316 (8%). Total grants and expenditures for infrastructure in the City of Darlington equal $24,280,236. (For more details on infrastructure spending, see CITY MANAGER RELEASES INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING REPORT on Page 1).

Darlington City Council meets next on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

Author: Stephan Drew

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