Political News

County Council meeting addresses new projects


On Monday Nov. 21, Clarendon County Council held a special called meeting in its Chamber on Sunset Drive in Manning. It was the third and final reading of Ordinance 2022-11. This ordinance is regarding capital projects to update the definition of “projects” to provide for the use of certain fees in lieu of taxes and other related matters.

Many citizens turned out for this meeting holding signs saying things such as:

“Vote No to 2022-11” and “No more taxes, people are hurting”. 

The ordinance is currently not being funded by taxpayer money and the council is hoping to find other resources to pay for these projects. Chairman Dwight Stewart opened by explaining, “The Penny Sales Tax was a referendum on whether we should fund those items with a penny sales tax, not whether we should do them or not.”

The first reading was in October and the second reading was in November at the County Council meetings. David Epperson explained that the Penny Sales Tax would have been a method to fund the projects, not a determiner of whether or not the county could do the projects. The Penny Sales Tax was voted down, so Council had to look at other options for funding the projects.

Epperson said, “This ordinance will allow us to fund these projects thru the issuance of bonds to be paid back through multiple revenue resources that we have been looking into that would also include the potential to add tax millage to pay the bonds back, if it is needed.”

The five projects are essential public works facilities needed to improve the safety and lives of Clarendon County citizens. The first project is an E 911 EOC for the county. The county currently has four 911 dispatchers. The county wants to expand this to provide better response time to the citizens when they call with an emergency. The dispatch center serves several different areas and has a large call volume currently coming through a consolidated area. Additional space is also needed for the employees, housing of the technological equipment, and space to make upgrades when needed to the machinery. Training space is needed for the employees as well.

The second project is a new fire station in Turbeville. The current building is in “dire straits” per Epperson. The new facility would be able to house all the necessary equipment needed to have a functioning fire station along with decent living quarters for the firefighters. Officers will also be able to utilize the facility when patrolling the Turbeville part of the county as Manning is over 25 minutes from Turbeville. Council also wanted to add a community room and substation for the sheriff’s office.

The third project is a Public Works Facility. The current facility is over 25 years old and is located behind the detention center in Manning. 

Epperson explained the need, saying “It is very hard to move equipment in this facility due to the traffic in Manning and the size of the equipment”

There are 15 pieces of equipment currently that come in and out of the facility, and it shares space with the fleet maintenance. This causes more issues, according to Epperson. There is also no space to store items for road repair such as asphalt, rock etc. Epperson also said that covered parking is needed for the equipment to be kept out of the weather and last longer. There is also a need for other supplies and office space.

The fourth project is the Fleet Maintenance Facility located beside the Public Works facility. It is in the original fire station that was built in the 1970’s. Additional space is needed for this facility to store the county’s cars and equipment. The machinery and equipment also need a covered facility to protect it from the weather.

The last project is a law enforcement annex related to animal control. The county is using the kennels at the Second Chance Animal Shelter to house the animals brought in by animal control. There is no dedicated facility. This new facility will provide office and administrative space as well as areas for supplies, food, and other materials, such as more and larger kennels and cages. 

Epperson concluded that there are no more major upgrades or facility needs after these five projects are completed, minus some emergency situations. The county has tackled all other major upgrades.

Epperson said, “We are in the direction of using other available resources, other than taxes, to pay for the annual bond payments.” 

Chairman Stewart asked him to repeat this. 

Epperson said, “There are six economic development projects that have not been included in the general fund as of yet, and they can be used in the payment of the bond payments.”

He added, “Council recognizes that the assessed values are increasing with around a 4 percent increase in Clarendon County.”

Epperson also said that Council will be working with Senator Johnson and Representative Pedalino for other available resources to fund the projects. 

Newly elected Representative Pedalino spoke. “I have nothing to do with this and I am the new kid on the block in Columbia, but I have reached out to some higher ups about grants through fire and EMS grants to help offset this so no money has to come out of pocket.” Pedalino had no say in the passing of the ordinance.

Councilman Benton Blakely explained that he went through his taxes that he had received that day and was very pleased.

Blakely said, “The farms are going to be tickled, all the farm land taxes decreased, and a lot of other things. We are at the greatest state we have ever been in in Clarendon County.” 

Some citizens attending the meeting shook their heads, so Councilman Blakely responded, “Yes we are going back to the one cent sales tax. We have already experienced one, 12 or 14 years ago we put one in and gave the money to the schools.” 

Benton explained it was taxed on prepared food and not food from the grocery store. “It’s not a bad tax like people think it is, and then we were such good stewards of our county’s resources. We have, in the last 24 years that I know of, brought so much industry into this county, you wouldn’t believe. Georgia Pacific and small businesses are really going forward, yes, yes, yes things are getting better all the time. Nobody wants taxes of any kind, but what we are doing and what we have done 24 years ago has paid off.”

The audience began to get restless. One gentleman stood up in the crowd. “My name is Scott Hodge and I live right down the road, maybe y’all should budget like we have. I am not trying to start anything, but I have six children in the school system and we are struggling everyday. But y’all don’t care because you sit up there with silver spoons.” 

Mr. Hodge was escorted out but the audience cheered him on. 

Another member of the audience said that his taxes had gone up $2500 since last year.

Council Benton responded saying “I don’t know what else to say, the tax is gone, it was voted down and you are still going to be taken care of. If you have a little tax, you just have to have it. A town that does not tax and take care of things will die and dry up.”

Another audience member asked, “Does the vote mean anything? We voted no.” 

The confusion maybe coming in because some citizens think that voting no on the sales tax meant voting no to the projects. It does not. The one percent sales tax did not pass, meaning council cannot implement it to fund the five projects. 

A vote for the ordinance passed with one nay from Councilman A.C English who said “ Mr. Chairman, I would like to say I am in favor of all these project. We need them, we need them desperately. I just think the timing has been awful. Chambers erupted with claps from then audience for Councilman English.

The ordinance was passed and the meeting was adjourned. 


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