Intergovernmental Meeting Hones in on Wi-Fi

WINNSBORO – Representatives from Fairfield County’s various governing bodies broke bread together at the School District Offices on March 25 in one of the more affable intergovernmental meetings in recent years. Half of the local legislative delegation, as well as representatives from the County, School District and the towns of Jenkinsville, Ridgeway and Winnsboro provided updates on recent activities and their plans for the future over a meal of chicken, rice, macaroni and cheese, salad and cheesecake.

From the State House

Rep. MaryGail Douglas (D-41), Fairfield County’s voice in the State House of Representatives, told those in attendance that state budget negotiations earlier this month “almost turned into a fiasco.”

“I’m embarrassed about that,” Douglas said. “The legislature on the House side pretty much surrendered the budget authority to the governor. There were some that she held hostage.”

Douglas said efforts to secure a raise for state employees failed, although funds were found to cover a portion of employees’ health insurance premiums. The major issue facing the Legislature, she said, is the maintenance and repair of roads and bridges.

“Everybody seems to have a plan for roads and bridges, but nobody wants to release the dollars to do it,” Douglas said. “The budget on the House side provided an additional $50 million from the vehicle sales tax revenue that we could (use to) leverage another $500 million in federal dollars, and our governor is not happy with that proposal either.”

From the County

County Council Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) said the County should see some movement within the next month on the updated strategic plan, which will include long-term goals for proposed future revenues from the two new reactors under construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville. Robinson said SCANA, the primary shareholder in the plant, was committed to seeing both reactors completed, in spite of recent delays. Reactor 2 is expected to come online in 2019, she said, with Reactor 3 to follow a year later.

Robinson said Council was currently reviewing its noise ordinance and may also consider discussion of a gun ordinance.

Town of Jenkinsville

Jenkinsville Mayor Gregrey Ginyard reported that the Western Fairfield town is, through a series of recent annexations, growing along Highway 215. While thanking County Council for contributing $50,000 in matching funds to complete a sidewalk to the Jenkinsville park, Ginyard said the town also had plans to illuminate the sidewalk with street lights once the project was completed. The Mayor also said the town was exploring the possibility of constructing a new government building, which he hoped would include a library, to serve as Town Hall.

Town of Ridgeway

Mayor Charlene Herring bragged on the opening of Royal Greens, a hydroponic vegetable growing operation in Ridgeway, and reported on the town’s recent Rural Infrastructure Authority grant to upgrade the wastewater plant. Herring also said she was concerned over the Legislature’s talks to trim local business license taxes.

“That’s about 25 percent of our little budget of Ridgeway and that has a great impact,” Herring said. “We’ve had the local government fund reduced over the years and we don’t need another attack because any time we have to pay for something we have to bring back services from our people because we can’t afford that.”

Douglas said she would keep an eye on any bills moving forward, but said she didn’t think it would get much traction.

“It is being discussed heavily among our friends on the opposite side of the aisle,” Douglas said. “They can’t seem to come to any agreement and I don’t think that it’s going to fly on that side of the House.”

Town of Winnsboro

Mayor Roger Gaddy reported that as Winnsboro prepares for its upcoming budget discussions, Council will be looking once again at a possible increase in water rates, as well as a possible impact fee for new taps.

Gaddy said the town had acquired a grant to develop a walking trail around the Mt. Zion Green, while the Friends of Mt. Zion Institute had begun putting plywood over the broken windows on the old school building, painting the plywood to look like windows.

“That thing’s been an eyesore for a very long time,” Gaddy said. “I’ve been mayor 10 years and I said it would be torn down in nine months (after being elected). Sometimes you’ve got to be careful what you promise.”

Gaddy also reported on Winnsboro’s plans to acquire a bond to extend a water line to the Broad River, withdraw water there and pump it back to the reservoir.

“We’ve gone through the permitting process with DHEC (Department of Health and Environmental Control) to draw 8 million gallons a day,” Gaddy said. “The time period for public comment has passed, so we look forward to getting that permit from DHEC sometime in the near future.”

Gaddy said the Town had an option on the property along the river where the lines will begin. Once Winnsboro secures the permit from DHEC, Gaddy said, the engineering process will take approximately six months, after which the Town will take out the bond and begin putting out bids for construction. Early estimates placed the cost of the project between $12 and $13 million.

“We hope that 8 million gallons per day,” Gaddy said, “based on what our engineering consultants tell us, should hold us for 20 or 25 years for the future needs for commercial and residential development in Fairfield County and northeast Richland County.”

Fairfield County School District

Dr. J.R. Green, Superintendent of Fairfield County Schools, said the District would begin holding workshops on April 21 for their 2015-2016 budget. Green said he expected to see no operational millage increase this year.

The new Career and Technology Center (CTC), under construction between Fairfield Central High School and Fairfield Middle School, had faced some delays because of winter weather, but is expected to be ready for the 2015-2016 school year. Green said four new programs – Barbering, Firefighting/EMT, Project Lead the Way Engineering and Biomedical Science (an extension of the Nursing program) – had been added to the CTC curriculum.

Responding to a question from Mayor Gaddy, Green said the District plans to renovate the old Career Center site and use it as the new headquarters for the Transportation and Maintenance departments, as well as the new home for Gordon Odyssey Academy, which includes the District’s behavioral modification program and adult education.

“Gordon Odyssey Academy is in very bad shape,” Green said, “and as excited as I am to see this new career center go up, I am probably equally as excited about the fact that we have the opportunity to move Gordon Odyssey Academy from where it is and put it in a facility that is in much much better shape.”

Green also reported that all students in grades 3-12 now have their own personal learning devices in the form of new Google Chromebooks. That report sparked a discussion of the potential for county-wide internet access.

Currently, Green said, the District is partnering with local churches, installing Wi-Fi internet in churches that agree to open their doors to students and allow them to access the internet there. This partnership has helped address the relatively small number of students who do not have internet access at home.

“I think our partnership with local churches is a good short-term solution,” Green said, “but I think long-term we would love to see a partnership between County Council and Jenkinsville, all of the entities, to see if we can have broadband access throughout our entire county.”

Green said he would like to see all of the governing bodies sit down with local internet providers and devise a plan. The new revenues projected from the V.C. Summer reactors, Green said, could make that plan a reality.

“It doesn’t matter how much money we have,” Robinson said, “we’ve got to get past the Public Service Commission. We have so many providers in the county and they all are very territorial, so you’ve got to get past all that as well.”

But County Councilman Kamau Marcharia (District 4) said countywide internet was exactly the kind of collective effort intergovernmental meetings were designed to tackle.

“At intergovernmental meetings, we have come together and one of the things I’ve heard all these years is ‘what can we all do collectively to move this county forward?’” Marcharia said. “That’s it, right there. That’s something we all can work on and get our heads together to serve the public, if we agree to do it.”

With the next intergovernmental meeting scheduled for June 15 and hosted by County Council, Marcharia suggested representatives of each local body get together in the interim to discuss an internet plan. Mayor Herring recommended Green to head up the informal subcommittee.

As the meeting drew to a close, School Board member Henry Miller (District 3) offered a word of caution on working together, which, he said, “is what these meetings are all about.”

“But I don’t know anything about Ridgeway,” Miller said. “I’m just a School Board member. If you ask me about schools, I can tell you something. But each one of us, we need to stay in our lanes. I’m not telling you to not ask questions. But if we all stay in our lanes and work collectively together, we can get something done. That’s the key. But you can’t run the schools and I can’t run County Council. I can’t run the town of Jenkinsville. We’ve got to work together.”

 

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