Triumphs and troubles: Darlington’s City Manager shares experiences

Darlington City Manager John Payne. PHOTO BY STEPHAN DREW

By Stephan Drew, Editor

In a recent interview, Darlington City Manager John Payne shared insights into his two-year tenure, emphasizing the accomplishments achieved during this time, addressing critical issues still requiring attention, and outlining his vision for the city’s future.

When asked about his experience over the past two years, Payne’s pride in Darlington’s achievements shone through. One of the primary goals he set upon taking office was to enhance various facets of the city, including personnel, operations, utilities, and finances. To achieve this, the city underwent a comprehensive wage and classification study, a significant step toward ensuring that employees receive fair compensation. This study identified instances of underpayment and wage compression, rectified in the current budget, which ultimately guarantees that employees are now compensated appropriately.

First responders, including patrol officers, witnessed substantial pay increases, ensuring that the city can attract and retain skilled professionals. Payne pointed out that the improved compensation for patrol officers has already proven beneficial in recruiting and retaining talent under Chief Davis’s leadership.

Additionally, the city has streamlined stormwater management operations and increased its focus on maintaining and repairing the aging water and sewer systems, which are over a century old. These efforts are crucial in preserving the city’s vital infrastructure. Perhaps most notably, the city’s financial stability has improved significantly, with investments growing nearly fiftyfold over the past year, reaching approximately $200,000. Over $1 million has been spent on infrastructure repairs just in the last 12 months and it is expected that $6.5 million more will be spent on infrastructure this fiscal year.

Furthermore, the city now requires revenue verification for business licenses and hospitality tax forms, assuring that Darlington receives the revenue it is owed. These accomplishments demonstrate the city’s commitment to fiscal responsibility and the well-being of its residents.

While highlighting these achievements, Payne was candid about the pressing issues that still demand attention. The most prominent concern remains the aging water, sewer, and stormwater infrastructure. Many of the city’s pipes are a century old, leading to frequent collapses and expensive repairs. Payne acknowledged that this issue cannot be resolved instantly but stressed that ongoing improvements are being made monthly. He also noted that the water, sewer, and stormwater accounts have suffered substantial losses over the years, emphasizing the importance of proper funding for these utilities. However, he expressed confidence in the dedicated team working to address these challenges, citing nearly $10,000,000 in grants awarded since 2021 as a positive sign.

Responding to concerns about recent water and sewer rate increases, Payne emphasized the crucial role these utilities play in maintaining the city’s well-being. Clean water, sanitary sewer systems, and effective stormwater drainage are essential for the community’s health, cleanliness, and economic development. Payne acknowledged that nobody enjoys paying more for services, but stressed that rising costs necessitate rate adjustments. Operating at a loss is not a viable option, especially when there is a growing demand for infrastructure repairs. He assured customers that these rate increases are essential for ensuring the reliability and functionality of these critical services.

Payne also shared his vision for Darlington over the next five years. He highlighted the forthcoming downtown Master Plan, which will provide a roadmap for the city’s growth and development. The city has already seen a surge in businesses opening across town, enhancing the quality of life and expanding the tax base. Payne expressed his excitement for the continued progress, promising that by 2028, Darlington will have evolved further, offering even greater opportunities and benefits to its residents and the region at large.

Author: Stephan Drew

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