The Edgefield County Council met for a special called meeting, Tuesday night, Sept. 27, at Council Chambers. All of Council as well as the two presumed to be new members of Council, Art Bigg and Scott Cooper (who are running unopposed for Council seats this November), County Administrator Tommy Paradise, Roger LeDuc (who moderated the meeting), and a handful of citizens were present. The meeting had been called for by Council Chairman Dean Campbell so that, as he explained at Council’s regular monthly meeting, Council, the two presumed new members, and new Administrator Paradise could all meet as one body to discuss direction and goals for the County.
Administrator Paradise led the meeting by presenting to Council a list of ten items he felt needed or would need to be considered by Council within the next five years. Those items included Emergency Management Services, the Auditor’s Office, Sweetwater Community Center, planning for future growth within the county, the County garage, computer technology, economic development, storm water management, the Edgefield County Detention Center and the Magistrate Court, and County maintained roads. As to EMS, Paradise pointed out that calls to the service are up 24% from the last 2 years and transports are up 54% thereby causing expenses to EMS to rise. To alleviate the rising costs, Paradise recommended Council explore options such as having Edgefield County Hospital outsource their non-emergency transports. In regards to the Auditor’s Office, Paradise asked Council to begin considering now what will become of the space once the auditor and staff move to their new location. To the Sweetwater Community Center, Paradise informed Council that rentals of the facility are up and recommended avenues be explored which will eventually allow the facility to be leased back-to-back by different organizations. (This item was later moved under recreation when Council established their overall lists of items.) Discussing planning for the county’s growth, the question was posed as to whether or not members of the planning commission are knowledgeable enough to make decisions for the County to which the answer was given as no by LeDuc. The explanation here being that members only receive 3 hours/year in continuing education and some issues require more than just general knowledge. The suggestion was made that experts in different areas might be brought in from time to time to assist the commission. It was also recommended that a joint meeting between Council and the commission be held at least once a year. As for the County garage, Paradise advised Council that the annual payroll for the garage is $84,154. He questioned if utilizing this facility was the most efficient use of County funds and suggested that maybe outsourcing some of the work might be a better alternative. To the issue of computer technology, Paradise also informed Council that 64% of the County’s computers are at or exceeding 5 years of age which is the point at which the County’s IT firm recommends replacing them and at which they are no longer under warranty. Paradise suggested that some sort of replacement schedule be established for the machines or that money start being set aside for their eventual replacements. He also questioned if the County needed an IT support company or if employing an IT professional on staff might be more efficient. As to economic development, Paradise advised that the County’s unemployment rate is at 6.4% and reminded that without any additional development in the county, taxes and/or increased fee implementations would be needed. As ways to help entice industry to the area, Paradise recommended Council work with the Water and Sewer Authority to bring those services to more areas in the county and also recommended Council work to make internet access more available throughout the county. In regards to storm water management, Paradise suggested Council work on ways to fund storm water management projects or consider the putting into place policies or plans that would make builders and property owners responsible for those type issues. On the topic of the Sheriff’s Office and Magistrate Court, Paradise reminded Council that the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office is running out of space at its detention center and also told that the Magistrate Court, too, has no additional space and no public courtroom. Paradise suggested looking at plans now to resolve these issues in the long term. To this, LeDuc recommended Council begin with a conceptual plan which would allow Council to get ideas on the costs and how the projects might be broken down into phases. Discussing County maintained roads, Paradise reminded Council that the County has 150 miles of unpaved roads and 50 miles of paved roads it is responsible for maintaining. It was suggested that Council and the County Transportation Committee meet jointly at least once a year to discuss these roads. During this discussion, Council was also reminded that it costs approximately $1 million to pave a road and about $100,000 to resurface one.
At two different points during the meeting, the public was invited to share comments. Some of those comments included EMA Director Suzy Spurgeon stating that she felt EMS should be a high priority issue because the agency also faces future issues regarding equipment. There were general concerns expressed by members of the public in regards to growth and the need for zoning. The suggestion was also given that the County’s partnership with the Economic Development Partnership be re-evaluated to see if the County is getting their money’s worth, and a recommendation was given that the County build better relations with larger surrounding counties that have undergone growth in order to learn from them on how to best handle this issue. Art Bigg also suggested that law enforcement, especially the renovations to the detention center, be made a high priority issue for Council.
After Paradise’s presentation and comments from the public, six goals were presented for consideration by Council. Councilwoman Genia Blackwell noted the lack of fire hydrants throughout the county and wanted to see if more could be installed. Councilwoman Betty Butler noted that narrowness to the turn onto Bettis Academy Road and stated that she wants Council to begin looking at how to handle the truck traffic that will be turning onto this road once the Hwy 25 widening project is completed. Councilman Albert Talbert stated that his goal for Council is to see water and sewer services brought to the Northside district and suggested that the study regarding this issue done in 2009 be re-examined. Chairman Dean Campbell said that it was his goal to see effectiveness and efficiency in the County noting specifically the County garage. The issue of user fees, such as for business licenses and building fees, was brought up during the comments by the public and adopted by Council to add to their list. They also adopted the idea of a county wide communications system that was brought up in public comments, as well.
After the different items were presented and discussed, Council then formed a list with three categories; high priority, medium priority, and low priority. The items that were placed on the high priority list included EMS services, planning for the County’s growth, economic development, user fees, and a county wide communications system. Under medium priority were placed recreation/the Sweetwater Community Center, computer technology, storm water management, the ECSO and Magistrate Court projects, County maintained roads, water for Northside, and a more effective and efficient government. The Auditor’s Office, the County garage, fire water supply, and the issues at Bettis Academy Road were placed on the low priority list.
It must be noted that some of the issues listed on each list are concerns with which the County will be continually dealing, such as economic development, while others will be one-time matters, such as the move by the Auditor’s Office. The issues are not expected to be dealt with in any certain order other than Administrator Paradise will begin working on the items on the high priority list first. Some matters will be quicker than others to deal with on each list, and it is expected that as items on one list are dealt with, items from another list will be moved to take their place.