Will Williams, President/CEO of the Economic Development Partnership presented to Edgefield County Council the Annual Update on the State of the County’s Economic Development at Council’s most recent monthly meeting, Feb. 5. Williams began his presentation by giving a highlight of economic development within the county over the recent past. As part of that highlight, he reminded Council that Samsung is half way through a 3 year lease at the former Urban Outfitters site. He noted that 5 industries had expressed interest in one form or another in Edgefield County over the past year and told of how he continues to meet with leaders of existing industries within the county. Williams stated that this is a practice he will continue throughout 2019 as well. Williams also said that he will be promoting Edgefield County both domestically and internationally in the coming year. He spoke of partnering with area educational providers to fill the workforce and of studying barriers to workforce engagement and of how to find solutions to those barriers. Williams spent quite a bit of time expounding on attempts to close the gap in broadband service within the county. Williams reminded that this is a private sector issue, and as such, other than “leaning on” the private, for-profit-sector there is not much Council can do to bring more broadband accessibility to the county. He noted that 55% of rural America lacks access to 23Mbps broadband while only 8% lack it in urban areas across the nation. For Edgefield County and surrounding areas, that translates into 45,000 people who are without this service. Williams showed a chart of Edgefield County in which the county was broken up into 8 different sectors. He explained that he will be focusing on these quadrants individually as he tries to bring more broadband to the area. Williams stated that he is not sure Edgefield County will see 100% coverage with this service but added that he hopes to “keep moving the needle.” He assured Council, “We’re going to keep working on this.” He went on to note, “This really does impact the quality of life in Edgefield County.” It was clarified that these initiatives are for broadband service not cellular service. When questioned if the same efforts could be applied to increasing cell service throughout the county, Williams again reminded that he, governmental leaders, and citizens could continue to “lean on providers” but that ultimately it is up to the private sector providers to come to the county and offer that service. Before concluding his presentation, Williams advised Council of SC House Bill 3780, Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT), and of how he supports this measure and is encouraging the Edgefield County Delegation to do the same.
From there, the meeting moved quite quickly as Council made short work of passing a consent agenda, which saw reappointments, appointments, and liaison assignments for Council members to different boards approved and saw full support given to the passage of the third reading of an ordinance to rezone certain property on Martintown Road. The meeting might well have been one of Council’s shortest had not, during the final public speaking portion, Shirley Tillman and Willie Bright appealed to Council for the free use of Bettis Park for their annual Earth Day celebrations. This sparked a lengthy discussion led by Chairman Scott Cooper in which he declared his opposition to this request stating that he felt Council should follow established policy. He said that to waive the fee for this organization opens Council up by making an exemption for one group. He followed these opposing remarks with a pledge to personally donate $100 in an effort “to get the ball started” in helping the organization raise funds to cover the fee but reaffirmed his opposition to waiving the fee. Councilman Art Biggs then questioned Administrator Tommy Paradise as to what has been the past practice involving this group and its use of the park for their celebration. Paradise advised that in the past, the group has not paid to use the site. However, he reminded Council of issues that evolved last year and the subsequent passage of an ordinance as a result of those issues. He noted that said ordinance made what once was looked upon as “rules” laws. He also reminded that the fees collected from the park’s rental go to the Recreation Department which has seen deficiencies in its budget in recent years. Councilwoman Jackie Kennion asked if perhaps this group could be “grandfathered in” and not be charged a rental fee. Chairman Cooper then advised that he would be in favor of putting discussion of this matter on next month’s agenda but held firm to his opposition saying that fee requirements should be the same for everyone when it comes to renting out parks for use. Councilman Biggs noted that he has “difficulty” charging anyone for use of a County park saying, “I struggle very hard with this.” In the end, it was decided that the matter of the revised ordinance pertaining to park rentals would be placed on next month’s agenda for discussion. One other public speaker, Robert Rumbello, also addressed Council. He simply spoke regarding Veterans’ Assistance and let Council know that he is involved with working with the homeless and with veterans. Specifically, he noted that he is involved with working with banks to locate funds to renovate homes in an effort to bring veterans to the Edgefield County area.
In his closing comments, Administrator Paradise advised Council that the County has closed on the sale of the Manor House. He also reminded of the Feb. 12 public meeting to discuss the draft of the Comprehensive Land Use and Transportation Plan. This meeting will be at 7:00 at Council Chambers. The Plan’s draft is posted on the County’s website and written comments will be taken on it until noon Feb. 15. Paradise let Council know that licenses for Sunday sales of alcohol are ready to be issued. Paradise informed Council that the County has not received their $1880.55/month lease check from the US Department of Agriculture as a result of the government shut down. He stated that the County can expect not to receive a check until federal budget issues are resolved but added the County does anticipate the government paying any unpaid amounts. Paradise also let Council know that the deadline for budget requests had passed and that budget meetings would begin the following week. Paradise told of his and Councilman Art Biggs’ recent visit to Dorchester County. There, they met with the county administrator and the sheriff to review funding and construction of their new detention center.
Chairman Cooper invited all to attend the Comprehensive Plan meeting during his closing comments. Council did go into executive session to discuss the annual review of the County Administrator and the Clerk to Council. They returned to unanimously approve a 1% raise for each. Chairman Cooper said of the two, “They have both done phenomenal jobs.” This raise will begin with the next pay cycle. There being no further business to conduct, Council adjourned.