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County Council Terminates Northside Park Lease

The issue of Northside Park again drew strong responses at this month’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Edgefield County Council, Tuesday night, July 10.  Council voted to terminate the lease agreement that has been in place between the county and Union Third Division/Peterson Educational Institute since 2007 for the use of the land that has become known as Northside Park.  The lease agreement would have terminated on its own in 2017.

In his remarks supporting this move, Council Chairman Dean Campbell began by saying he hoped that efforts could be made to secure a recreational park in this area, as well as other areas in the county, but noted that the lease originated with plans to turn the land into a recreational park for the county and that the land’s inability to perk led to those plans being abandoned.  He stated that the park has now become a community park.  He further reminded Council of the recent public remarks of a Northside resident who admitted to Council that the park is now mostly used by members of the church next to which it is located and not the Northside community as a whole.

Campbell said, “Council has shown a pattern of not supporting this [the park].”  As evidence to this, he pointed out that minutes from the June 2009 meeting of Council showed that Mr. Dorn made a motion to accept a bid for the placement of a self-contained septic system and port-o-potties at the park, but the motion died with no second.  (Council had previously allowed for the suggested system to go out to bid at an earlier meeting, however.)  Campbell also stated that Council records showed that in January of 2010, Mr. Dorn requested $2000 for more tests to be done on the property by an engineering firm even after DHEC had conducted a fourth perk test in January of 2009 in which heavy machinery was used to excavate the site and still no area was found to perk.  This motion, too, died with no second.

Mr. Campbell did point out that the owners of the property will be getting an improved location as the county has put in a baseball field, pavilion, and basketball court.   Councilman Dorn adamantly objected to the termination and refused to go into an executive session, called for by County Attorney Michael Medlock, calling it a “Kangaroo Court.”  No action was taken in this session.

Councilman Bright also voiced his objections of this termination on the grounds that the other party in this lease agreement was not notified in advance of this termination proceeding and on the grounds that now the other party will have to assume liability for the property.  It was pointed out the representative of the Northside area was aware of the agenda for the meeting well in advance and could have contacted said party to invite to the meeting.  To the issue of liabilty, Councilman Ashcraft responded that the county should not bear liability for a property just to cover another entities liability.  In the end, the lease was terminated in a 3-2 vote with Bright and Dorn voting negatively.

Shortly after this vote, which occurred at the end of the agenda, Council heard from 4 residents of the Northside community in the second public comments section of the meeting.  Each of the residents who spoke were quite emotional in their support of the park and several times tempers flared in opposition to the lease’s termination.  Presumably in protest of the termination, Mr. Bright and Mr. Dorn left the meeting after the speakers concluded their comments.

In other business that was conducted before the Northside issue arose, Council unanimously passed on first reading an ordinance to modify their procedures for conducting Council meetings.  The need for this up-date stems from a judgment that was recently rendered in a lawsuit that states county councils cannot change their agendas during their meetings.  However, the agenda can be amended up to 24 hours prior to a meeting.  The new rules adopted under this ordinance are the Model Rules for Parliamentary Procedure as recommended by the SC Association of Counties and will apply to County Council and all boards under it.

Council also voted unanimously to void a past resolution that stated the county would maintain an unreserved fund balance not to exceed 4 months of operating expenditures.  It was noted that this old ordinance limits the county and that the county’s external auditors recommended 3-5 months of operating expenditures for a healthy fund balance.  Mr. Campbell said of the old resolution, “It’s unnecessary …. time to replace with standard common sense.”

Council gave unanimous approval to a traffic calming policy that will enable residents wishing to have speed bumps placed on their road a procedure in which to follow.  While this policy will serve as a guide offering criteria that will help to determine if a road is eligible for these devices, Council will vote on each road on a case by case basis.  Residents will have to present a petition which must be signed by at least 75% of the residents on the road, fill out an application, and pay 50% of the cost of each bump’s instillation.  Speed bumps will not be placed until this money has been paid to the county.  Council will also retain the right to reverse its decision and remove any devices that may be deemed ineffective.

Representatives from the South Carolina Association of Counties gave Council a presentation of services provided by the group and discussed highlights from this last legislative session which was referred to as “probably one of the most challenging sessions.”  Council was reminded that now is the time to present any issues to SCAC that may need to be addressed by the legislature since SCAC is about to begin its legislative steering committee.

Administrator Lynn Strom gave her report to Council in which she noted that county employee contributions to the state retirement fund had increased in July from 6.5% to 7%.  She informed Council that the contribution amount will continue to rise in increments of .5% until it tops out at 8% in 2014.  Mrs. Strom also informed Council that the county will be getting an additional $100,000 this year from the Local Government Fund provided by the state.  She further advised Council that they can expect to vote on the plans for the animal shelter at their August meeting.

Before adjourning the meeting, Mr. Campbell reminded Council of several called meetings in August.  August 6, Council will meet with the Town of Edgefield, the Town of Trenton on Aug. 8, and Johnston on the 13th.  They will attend the Aug. 14 meeting of the Edgefield County School Board, meet with the legislative delegation Aug. 20, and on the 27th with the Water and Sewer Authority.