Campbell Again Chairman of Council Hospital Asks for Gen. Obligation Bond
Dean Campbell was again elected to fill the Chairman position of Edgefield County Council at the group’s regular monthly meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 5. Genia Blackwell, who served as Chairwoman this past year but had previously served under Campbell as Vice-Chair, was again voted to be Vice-Chairwoman. The elections were administered by County Attorney Andrew Marine and were held without Blackwell, who was absent from Tuesday night’s meeting. Campbell was sworn in after the elections, and Blackwell is expected to be sworn in at next month’s meeting.
Leading off the meeting, Councilman Rodney Ashcraft motioned to add discussion of a general obligation bond for Edgefield County Hospital to the agenda before the agenda‘s approval. This motion was unanimously approved and added as new item number one. In the subsequent discussion of the matter under new business, ECH Board member John Pettigrew addressed Council and asked that they consider obtaining a general obligation bond in the amount $2 million for ECH. Pettigrew stated that currently the hospital has two outstanding bonds, both of which have interest rates over 4%; one at 4.875% and the other at 4.25%. He said that with current lower interest rates, the hospital has the opportunity to obtain a bond at 2.75% which ECH would use to pay off the other two bonds. Pettigrew said that this move would cut the interest rates nearly in half of what they are currently paying and would also cut the time of one of the bonds in half as well. Pettigrew stated that ECH is currently making its payments to the other two bonds but said, with the new bond, the new payment would be around $13,000 a month. The projected savings to ECH was given as over half a million dollars over the term of the bond. Pettigrew said that in the event the hospital could not repay the debt, language would be added to the ordinance needed to authorize this bond that would state that millage available to ECH would be used to make the payments. Currently, ECH receives 6 mills; around $600,000, a year.
Councilman Ashcraft, Liaison for Council to ECH, said, “I’m impressed with how the hospital has been doing,” after Pettigrew finished his petition. Chairman Campbell asked for other options that might be available to ECH other than a bond that would have to be taken out by the County for the hospital. Campbell was told the entity could continue with a revenue bond but that that option would not save the hospital any money because the rates on those bonds are about the same as the hospital’s two current bonds.
When asked for his comments on the matter, Interim Administrator Roger LeDuc said, “This is really good for the hospital and will save them a lot of money.” However, he cautioned that by obtaining this bond, the county’s borrowing capacity would be cut nearly in half. Currently, the county has borrowing capability of about $4 million. As such, if the County should secure this proposed bond, any big projects the county might wished to undertake that might cost near that amount would not be able to be bonded and as such, a referendum would be the only way to secure funding for the project. This, as LeDuc reminded, could hamper needed known work that will be required at the sheriff’s office and the county jail. LeDuc further cautioned that it will be the county’s money at risk if ECH is unable to make payments.
In the end, Council voted unanimously to approve, by title only, seeking a general obligation bond for ECH not to exceed $2 million. This matter will still require two more readings and a public hearing before its final approval. (The Advertiser has learned there will be a special called meeting regarding a second reading for this ordinance Thursday, Jan. 14 at 4:00 in the County Council Chambers.)
Lengthy discussion was given yet again to the purchase of a new motor grader for the county. As previously reported from last month’s meeting, Council received three bids for the grader; one from Flint Equipment of Grovetown, GA, for a John Deere in the amount of $228,074.65; a second from Blanchard Machinery of West Columbia for a CAT in the amount of $222,017; and a third from Border Equipment of Augusta for a CASE for the cost of $227,341.10. As before, it was recommended that Council accept the lower bid from Blanchard for the Caterpillar motor grader. Road Maintenance Supervisor Jimmy Feagin was on hand to speak to Council regarding the purchase and to speak of the county’s past experience with CAT equipment. Feagin said, “CAT’s been good to us,” saying that representatives with the company come around at least once a month to make sure things are running well. He added that they have had “very little down time” associated with the CAT machinery currently in use by the county and that there has been very little money spent on repairs over the 10 year period the county has had the CAT graders. He further noted that the county receives discounts when they do make purchases with CAT. In speaking to how reliable CAT equipment has been for the county thus far, Chairman Campbell said, “I don’t know why we’d go with a higher bid.” However, Councilwoman Betty Butler said, “I tend to like what John Deere is offering,” specifically citing the “safety aspect”. She also called upon an audience member to speak to the slope device offered by the John Deere grader. However, Feagin countered that the slope device in question is actually used for building roads not maintaining them, and as he reminded, the county road crew does not build the roads. They are only maintaining them. In speaking of the John Deere bid, Interim Administrator LeDuc said, “I feel the bid was insufficient,” noting that the company did not give a trade-in amount as specified in the bid package. Councilwoman Butler then questioned why the bid was included in the bids presented to Council if it was deemed insufficient. She, in the end, motioned that Council accept the bid from Flint Equipment for the John Deere grader. However, the motion failed in a split vote with Butler and Councilman Albert Talbert voting in favor of the move and Council members Campbell and Rodney Ashcraft voting against it. Ashcraft then motioned that Blanchard Equipment’s bid for the CAT be accepted. That motion, too, failed, in a reverse split vote. Thus, the matter was again tabled for another month.
After a presentation from Lt. Mark Howard of the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office, Council was able to come to an agreement over the purchase of taser equipment for the sheriff’s office; another matter that was held over from last month’s meeting. Howard told Council that by choosing to purchase Taser from Lawmens Safety Supply rather than equipment from Phazzer, the sheriff’s office would experience “continuity” saying the sheriff’s office has used Taser for years and that it is the equipment used by most law enforcement agencies across the nation. Saying Taser was “time tested and proven”, he voiced concerns over Phazzer saying this bid was the first time the office had heard of the company and added concerns about possible lawsuits regarding use of this equipment in the future. The Taser bid was the recommended choice to Council, even though it was the higher bid, based on the fact that the sheriff’s office is trained on Taser equipment, and they have access to Taser training. There are no known Phazzer training classes in this area, and Phazzer did not provide a quote for additional batteries as requested in the bid package. In the end, Council voted as one to accept the bid for the Taser equipment. The $18,502.17 costs for the equipment will be funded by a 90/10 grant in which the County will pay the 10%.
Other new business items that received the full Council’s support included accepting as information the 2014-2015 audit by Mauldin Jenkins, amendment of the Memorandum of Understanding between the County and the Edgefield Civic League, authorization to do a long term loan of the County’s skid mounted tanker truck to the Town of Trenton, and approval of the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the sale of .048 acres on Railroad Street to Beth Padgett. In regards to the audit, the County received a “clean opinion.” As for the MOU, the Civic League has been operating the County’s Archives Department from 9-12 every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for some months. They have also started indexing the county’s records and making necessary repairs to older documents. The major change that will be seen with the amendment is that the group will now open the office every day from 9-12. This will be done at the same cost to the County as before; $1200 a month. As to the tanker truck, Council was informed that the truck, which was acquired “years ago” from the town of Edgefield in exchange for work done, has only been used once in the past two years. Additionally, Council was told the truck’s brakes have failed, and it is not kept in a covered building. Trenton, who intends to use to the truck to fight both brush and forest fires in the county, would maintain the insurance on the vehicle, fix the brakes and maintain it on a regular basis, and house it in a heated building. Additionally, the truck would be available to the County’s road maintenance crew whenever needed. The matter was accepted after it was determined that language would be added to the agreement that the truck will be returned to the County when Trenton no longer wants it. The matter of the sale of approximately a 20th of an acre to Beth Padgett was deemed necessary for Padgett to build a garage and still be incompliance with the town of Edgefield’s zoning standards which require the structure be at least 16 feet from the County property line. The sheriff’s office, which has expressed interest in using the land for future expansion, was in favor of the sale. It was decided the land will be sold for $800 to Padgett.
Council did hold a public hearing for amendment to the County Code if Ordinances that is intended to help encourage development by allowing large tracts of land to be subdivided without restricting how many lots can be developed over a ten year period. However, there were no public comments, and the matter passed its second reading unanimously.
In their last public comments portion of the meeting, Council heard from three citizens on various matters. Scott Cooper addressed Council regarding refugee resettlement. He voiced concerns that in many instances refugees are being resettled in rural areas such as Edgefield before elected officials are even aware of it. He further voiced concern over the negative economic impact refugees have on the economy. Saying at least four other counties in the state have issued resolutions against resettlement in their areas, Cooper encouraged Council to research the matter and consider doing the same. Art Diggs addressed Council regarding the proposed annexation of 82 acres in Edgefield County by North Augusta. He asked for thoughts and comments, now or later, by council members on this issue to which Councilman Ashcraft said he would call him. Fred Peterson told Council he believes a maintenance package was relevant to the purchase of the motor grader and recommended Council request such from each company.
In his closing comments, Interim Administrator LeDuc said the information Peterson recommended Council request was already provided by the companies in the bid packages.
In his closing comments, Chairman Campbell thanked Council for electing him chairperson again and praised Genia Blackwell for the job she had done over the past year as Chairwoman saying he “appreciated the wonderful job she did.” Campbell said that over the coming year, he had three issues on which he wanted to focus: economic development, constituent service, and making county government work more efficiently.
Council did go into executive session, but no action was taken upon their return. With no further business to discuss, Council adjourned.