Retreat focused on changing image

LAKE WATEREE – During Fairfield County Council’s first retreat in more than four years, County Administrator Jason Taylor led the meeting with a staff review of 39 or so projects the county initiated or mostly wrapped up over the last couple of years – Mt. Zion, Fairfield Memorial Hospital, Providence ER facility, the mega site, the animal ordinance, SCE&G lawsuit and website redesign, to name a few.

Next, Taylor and his staff – Community Planner Chris Clausen, Economic Development Director Ty Davenport and Deputy Administrator Davis Anderson – guided council through what Taylor called “thoughts, ideas and discussion of where we want to take the county and how we want to work to improve it.”

The focus leaned heavily on projects to change the county’s image.

The following is a summary of the four hour meeting.

Make a greater use of grants

“We have a list of grants we want to throw out to you all, and we need projects to apply for those grants,” Taylor told council members. “We have not pursued grants in the past like we should have. We should always have a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) going, whether it’s for a library or an infrastructure project. We’re going to restructure how we pursue grants now. There are $500,000 CDBG’s for community enrichment and $750,000 CDBG’s for infrastructure. We can also do blight removal with CDBG grants. The money’s out there but we have to have a project to qualify. We need you all to tell us what you want to see done, because we’re going to aggressively go after grants,” Taylor said.

Build and improve on a grander scale

“When we build new stuff, it can be a calling card. We don’t necessarily want the lowest cost and least impressive option,” Taylor said. “We might need to spend a little more money. When we build a permanent library in Ridgeway, we need to build something that makes a statement. Libraries are not just about books anymore. They are also about programs.”

Water and Sewer Authority

“The Water and sewer authority is one of the biggest projects on the list,” Taylor said. “For a long time, the county and town realized that neither of us could do it alone – to provide infrastructure throughout this county, maintain it or put it at the level it needs to be as far as distribution lines and capacity to support future growth. One of the first things we’re doing, now, is going out there and just finding out what’s in the ground. Once we know what’s out there we can strategically figure out where we need to fill in the gaps. I think we’ll first have to focus on the I-77 corridor since that’s where we’ll get the most return, initially, on our money. That area [especially the I-77 exits] is a gold mine for the county, and it’s never been developed because we have almost no lines out there. A developer is a lot more likely to come if we have a piece of property with infrastructure permitted and ready to go,” Taylor said.

Community Development Director Chris Clausen added that there are some CDBG grants available for low-income rural residents who cannot afford to have water lines brought to their homes.

Project Money from COG

Taylor said the administration is bringing pressure on the COG to bring projects to Fairfield County.

“The [COG’s] project grants all flow to Richland and Lexington counties,” Taylor said, “and none to the Fairfield community. The larger metropolitan communities get the money assigned to them for projects. We have to compete for it and put together a competitive grant package which is more difficult.”

Taylor said he has broached the issue with COG leadership and the Council Chair now sits on the executive board which he thinks will help move money toward the county’s projects.

“But to [get the grants], we also always need to have projects that fit the grant requirements,” Taylor said.

Getting rid of blight

“The biggest owner of blight in Fairfield County is Fairfield County,” Taylor said. “We have 120 – 150 properties in forfeited land trust – properties that land owners haven’t paid taxes on in years, so they come into the county’s ownership. We own about 25 houses in Winnsboro that are falling in.

“The easiest way for us to start to clean up blight is to start with those properties,” Taylor said. “As we get the titles cleared up, we want to start knocking these houses down. And once they’re knocked down, the lots still have water, sewer and are ready to go for prospective home owners to build on. We might have a chance to bundle all the lots and sell them to a developer for basically nothing with the stipulation that they build x, y and z on the lots…and then we would have tax dollars coming in on those lots and have new housing stock in the middle of town which helps the town.”

“CDBG does have a grant to help us with blight, but we have to have a neighborhood revitalization plan to pursue that grant,” Clausen said. “We’re looking at that for an area reaching from the former FMH hospital site to the library up to Fortune springs and over to First Baptist Church on Hwy 321. We’re going to have that whole area master planned to look at what can be done to help it be revitalized – everything from a demo plan to what businesses need to be enhanced and what buildings to be repurposed such as some of the school district properties in that area. Once that’s in place, we can pursue the funding through CDBG for blight removal.” Clausen said he has received a quote from the COG for the master plan, but has not had a chance to discuss it with administration.

New Animal Control Facility

“Our intake and adoption facilities are separate and we need to combine them,” Taylor said, “maybe where the existing intake facility is. We have more property there.”
Anderson said it might be patterned after Aiken’s facility where there are inside and outside runs, a ventilation system and water is controlled by the animals.

“Without asking County to budget it, we are going to try to work with Hoof and Paw and other animal associations within the county and raise money to build these,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be a community effort. Hoof and Paw has done a tremendous job helping us financially with spay and neuters, so we’re going to go to them to help us raise this money.”

The current adoption center next to Midlands Tech could be turned in to a veterinary clinic for spay and neuter. To that end, Taylor said the county is floating the idea of working with Midlands to offer a vet tech program where students could gain experience at the clinic next door.

DNR Trails

Taylor also talked about ways to help the western side of the county grow.

“We have a great asset along the Broad River – a rail trestle that runs over by Peak. It’s a hidden gem in the state. But it’s a small area. With a DNR grant, we could put something there where you could actually access the Broad River and put a canoe or kayak in, and it fits in with what DNR over all is trying to do. They have greenway paths and trails all the way to Richland. It would help us tie in to that. It will help the western side of the county grow to have an attraction over there. We could put $45,000 – $60,000 in to it and pull another $150,000 into it with a DNR grant and that will generate traffic out there,” Taylor said.

“That’s for recreation,” Clausen said, “but if we could include fishing in the project as well, we might could pull in up to a $200,000 grant.”

The remainder of the projects discussed at the retreat will appear in next week’s edition of The Voice.