Reflections on the Town of Blythewood

Tom Utroska, Blythewood Town Council

Tom Utroska, Blythewood Town Council

Normally, each year, Mayor Mike Ross writes a “State of the Town” letter to the residents. Since this is my last year on Town Council, I ask your indulgence with the following Q&A’s that continue to surface whenever I speak with fellow residents. As follows are some of the more “frequently asked questions” and my usual responses.

What is the story on the Town’s water supply?

The Town has a 20-year agreement with the Town of Winnsboro for Winnsboro to supply water/water services to the Town of Blythewood. The agreement (which is not exclusive – where Columbia has lines within the Town, Columbia may also supply water) provides for re-negotiation of the agreement in 2020, with 2 years advance notice. The Town has already served the required “notice,” and no doubt there will be healthy discussions concerning this. Winnsboro has an agreement (and “metered connection”) with the City of Columbia to allow Winnsboro to purchase water from Columbia as the need arises. Winnsboro is in the process of increasing their system and water capacity/reserves to meet proposed future growth for their service area.

We live in the 29016 zip code, why don’t we vote in Town elections?

The Town of Blythewood has defined Town limits and many “non-town areas” that are included in the 29016 zip code. The 29016 zip code is a geographical designation that encompasses many areas that are not in the Town.

Why doesn’t the Town spend more of the property tax money to make improvements on Town infrastructure?

The Town of Blythewood DOES NOT impose a property tax (millage – real estate tax) within the Town. All of the taxes on your tax bill are collected by Richland County (check your tax bill) and it’s their decision on how to spend the money. We try to influence our County Council to provide services commensurate with the taxes paid.

If the Town doesn’t have a real estate millage, then what is the Town’s annual budget and where does the money come from?

The fiscal year 2017 Town budget is approximately $1.4 million! The income comes from business licenses, building permits, hospitality (food) & accommodation (hotel) taxes, franchise fees (SCE&G, Fairfield Electric, etc.) and other miscellaneous incomes and shared State tax collections.

Who provides fire and police protection and maintains our roads?

Most of our “services” are administered under Intergovernmental Agreements (IGA) for which the agencies (fire and sheriff departments) collect tax monies through Richland County and provide the requisite services. With some rare exceptions, the majority of our public roads fall under Richland County or the SCDOT.

What will happen as the Town grows?

Eventually, the Town will need additional police and fire protection, but my best “guess” is not until we reach at least 20,000 in population. That “guesstimate” is based on conversations with the Sheriff and other knowledgeable officials. When we have to start our own services, residents will (under S.C. law) continue to pay “duplicate” taxes to Richland County, so we should not be in a rush to duplicate services and taxes!

What’s the story on the Doko Depot building? Will it be a restaurant?

The Doko Depot building is a long story. Years ago, the Town Council “borrowed” $900,000 from Santee Cooper Electric and received a $456,000 grant (free) from Fairfield Electric for economic development, which has to be spent or returned. The grant may not be used for playgrounds or roads; only for economic development.

The original intent of that Council was to build a restaurant (for approximately $1.4 million) and lease it to an established restaurant operator. The loan would have been repaid from the proceeds of lease payments. In the interim, the proposed lessor was unable to obtain a “performance guarantee” to cover the Town’s expense and the lease was never consummated. As a result, the Town returned $900,000 to Santee Cooper and voted to construct a smaller, less expensive building with the remaining grant funds. This building must be used for “economic development” such as an office building, start-up company or restaurant. We don’t know which will occur. Currently, the Town plans to sell the building (lease the land with the sale) and use the proceeds to make improvements in the Town – which is permitted by law.

As a whole, the Town finances remain static; we continue to maintain a year’s worth of reserves. Through diligence and efficiency, this should continue for the foreseeable future, but there are always “bumps in the road.”

With the new Town Amphitheater structure, there will be some advances required to be paid by the Town, but they are scheduled to be repaid by and replaced through donations to the Doko Meadows Park Foundation. Once in operation, it should be self-sustaining.

No doubt, there will continue to be learning curves, meetings and lively discussions to include, but not limited to: The Penny Tax Committee; SCDOT & Richland County road maintenance; Town and subdivision planning; tax millage proposals; Town ordinances and a myriad of others.

I understand that most of the citizens (except for us old retirees) are busy trying to make ends meet, raise families and enjoy family time, but I sincerely hope you will find time to be involved in Town business and issues.

Please try to attend a School Board, Penny Tax Committee, Planning Commission or Town Council meeting; voice your opinions; let elected officials and appointed members know your desires and preferences!