Note: This is part one of Margaret Brackett’s interview with county government leaders. The second part will appear in Friday’s edition.
This week we will bring you up to date on current county government activities. Scott Cain and Henry Livingston, County Councilmen Teresa Powers, Economic Development Director, and Leslie Jenkins, director, Newberry County Animal Shelter provide comments and answer questions.
• Our first topic is for Teresa Powers. Explain the new mega site for industrial development, and where Newberry County’s mega site is located?
A mega site, by definition, has to include 1,000 contiguous acres that are develop able for purposes of siting manufacturing facilities. Newberry County’s I-26 mega site is comprised of more than 2,000 acres and is bounded by I-26, Hwy. 76, and Old Whitmire Highway. It is important to note that, over the past year, this property has been tested for a long list of factors that would prohibit construction, such as protected wildlife, historical artifacts, and wetlands, and the property has none of the “show stoppers” or “fatal flaws,” that the site consultants who work for large companies worry about.
• What type of industry does the County hope will select the mega site to build a new facility?
We are looking for a high level of investment and the creation of high-paying jobs. The most commonly mentioned examples of these types of projects in South Carolina are Boeing and BMW. However, there is no particular company under consideration for our site at this time; these companies are merely examples of the kind of investment we are looking for. We know that several car manufacturers are likely to site operations in the Southeast United States over the next several years, but again, there is no particular company under consideration at this time, and we are speaking only in terms of examples, and of the kinds of companies we will be targeting. We, along with SC Department of Commerce officials and several notable site consultants, do feel strongly that this property’s location, along with its access to rail and interstate make it an attractive site for investments of this scale and quality.
• The County has another industrial property that is progressing rapidly – a new speculative building in the Mid-Carolina Commerce Park. Scott Cain, what’s happening with this project, and how does it differ from the mega site?
The steel framework for the building is up and a number of the concrete exterior panels are in place. This is a 50,000 square foot building shell that will be suitable to a wide variety of investments on a much smaller scale than anything that would locate at the mega site. But while it is certainly a smaller property, it fits the profile of the typical new manufacturing facility, and it mirrors what the research tells us most companies are looking for. The building should be complete by the early-to-mid spring, but there has already been interest, and the mere fact that we do have a building will bring potential corporate citizens here to look. In many ways, the building is a marketing tool, because the trend over the past several years is that industrial prospects want to see existing buildings, rather than just open land.
• Moving on to another topic. Leslie Jenkins, we understand that the new animal shelter has opened for business and is fully operational. What improvements are you noticing in the day-to-day care of the animals?
One thing we always struggled with at the old shelter was the winter temperature. Now the animals are in a fully enclosed facility where the temperature is kept at least 20 degrees above freezing in the winter. The heat inside the building is also similarly moderated in the summer. The new shelter is more sanitary as well. It has a drainage system that allows us to wash down the kennels efficiently – we clean every kennel twice per day. But the new shelter is also a better place for visitors to come, and those visitors are potential pet owners who will adopt our animals and give them good homes.
• Council has been active in curbing the population growth in unwanted pets, since December of 2011. How successful has that program been?
Under our $30 spay/neuter program pet owners have voluntarily brought in more than 1,400 animals to be sterilized. In addition to this, we sterilize all animals that are adopted out of the shelter, taking our total sterilization numbers above 2,400 since December of 2011. Over time, this is the most effective way to reduce the number of unwanted pets. Over the next two years, we should see a sustained reduction in the number of unwanted animals coming into the shelter.
• What are the County’s plans for the old shelter?
Most of Council’s discussions on this topic have indicated that the portion of the County’s land containing the old shelter, the old public works building, and the current vehicle maintenance facility will eventually be sold for private development, meaning that those buildings will be torn down. The public works department will be moving into its new building in the coming weeks, but the relocation of the vehicle maintenance facility has not yet been scheduled. Plans for the County’s usage of the property have focused on preserving the most marketable portions for sale.
• A group of citizens recently approached County Council about using the Old Library building downtown as a museum. Councilman Cain, what is the status of this request?
Council approved a resolution allowing the group to develop a business plan for this purpose. The long-term use of the building as a museum is contingent upon Council approving that plan. Council’s current plans involve renovation expenditures aimed at preserving the shell of the building and preventing damage from the weather. Obviously, making the building suitable for use as a museum will require more work than this. The group that petitioned Council will be seeking grants to do all or part of this work. They will also be determining how day-to-day operations will be funded. There is no doubt that this location would be a great improvement; the issue right now is finding the funding commitments for renovations and operations.
• What is the status of construction on the new Sheriff’s Department headquarters on Wilson Road?
We are anticipating a move-in date in late March or early April. Soon after that we will remove the mobile units currently used to house the Department. Construction of the emergency operations center (EOC – the new construction out front) has been delayed substantially by the weather, and it will be the last part of the project to be completed. Both the Old Armory portion of the project and the EOC are now “dried in,” however, meaning there should be no further delays on interior construction. There is still some site work to be done, including sidewalks and utility connections, and these areas will continue to be both weather-sensitive and dependent upon contractor schedules. But there is no reason the project should not be completed in the spring. The project is scaled such that it should be able to house operations of the Department until at least 2025, and the property is large enough to ensure the Department’s location there almost indefinitely.
County Chairman Henry Livingston, what will be the primary goals of the Newberry County for 2014?
The County is obviously laying the groundwork for industrial development and job creation. Ultimately, more job opportunities and higher discretionary – income above what is necessary for mere subsistence – are driving factors in improving quality of life. Council has set the stage for that, and we won’t be starting from scratch in pursuing those goals.
It’s also time to determine what consensus is attainable with respect to recreation. In this case, recreation is not the answer it’s the question. Given how widely our programs are scattered geographically, and given the desires for recreation to be community-based, what is politically and practically attainable? There is no “magic bullet” answer that makes everyone happy and that does not require compromise. There is a burden on the recreation community to reach that consensus. People cannot be led in 10 different directions, and they cannot be led where they do not want to go. We will be counting on our recreation leaders to be statesmen. Anyone who thinks that his or her burden in this process is only to be dissatisfied if they don’t like the outcome will not be a productive participant in the debate.
As has been the case over the past several years, Council also wants to keep the rate of taxation stable. Doing that means continually improving the services within existing limitations. Of course, this means that no line item in the budget should feel that its place is sacred. We don’t need great increases in taxes; we need continually improving accuracy in delivering the types and levels of services that are needed.