Last updated: June 11. 2014 9:25AM - 194 Views
Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist

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This week Newberry County Administrator Wayne Adams answers questions on current county government issues the Newberry County Council and staff members of Newberry County Government are discussing and considering for present and future processing.

In developing next year’s budget, there has been a lot of uncertainty about the South Carolina General Assembly’s funding for local governments. This is the funding that offsets local costs for housing and administering state functions, such as the courts. What is the impact of inadequate funding from this source on local taxpayers?

It now appears that state funding next year will be roughly the same as for this current fiscal year – about $1.4 million, but that amount is still half a million dollars less than the statutory formula calls for. That shortfall is responsible for about five tax mills locally. On a $100,000 owner-occupied home that’s $20 more in property taxes. On a $20,000 automobile, it represents an additional $6.

This is essentially a tax shift. In order to balance the state budget, the General Assembly shifts more expense to the local level.

With third and final reading of the budget coming up, it appears that a new terminal building for the Newberry County Airport will be a capital spending priority in 2015. What factors are driving the prioritization of this project?

A new terminal building is an attractive capital project for several reasons:

We need one. The building we use now for a terminal is at best primitive. State and federal funding would pay most of the cost. On a preliminary basis, we’re looking at an $800,000 building with the County paying about $300,000 (37.5 percent) of the total cost. Often times, industrial development prospects want to see potential sites, e.g., the mega site, from the air. When that is the case, the airport becomes the front door to our community

What other capital projects might get funded in the new fiscal year?

• Waterproofing the basement of the Courthouse ($400,000), Replacing bridges at Lynch’s Woods ($300,000), Landfill gas extraction system for the old landfill ($425,000), and Storage building for the new public works complex ($150,000).

Council recently accepted bids on further repairs to the Newberry County Courthouse. This includes interior repairs and weatherproofing the above- ground portion of the exterior. When will this work be completed, and what will it cost?

The interior repairs came in at just under $64,000 (Capital Construction Company), and the exterior weatherproofing came in at just over $109,000 (Watertight Systems). The work on both projects should be completed sometime this fall, and once the work is done Circuit Court functions can return to the Courthouse. For some time now, court has been held at the Annex building across the street from the Courthouse.

We understand that the final phase of the Courthouse repair project could be the most difficult. This involves water proofing the basement, which has not been occupied by staff for several years because of dampness. What is the current thinking on the best way to address this challenge?

There are two methods for dealing with the water intrusion into the basement. One of these, the traditional method, is to excavate and expose the exterior basement walls, apply a waterproofing membrane to the walls, and then put the excavated soil back in place against the waterproofed walls. This fix has a life as short as ten years.

The other method is to excavate around the basement walls and not replace the excavated soil, but leave an “areaway” between the basement walls and the sub-surface soil. This would eliminate the possibility of the basement walls coming in contact with subsurface water; it would also leave the basement walls readily accessible to any needed repairs in the future. This repair is believed to be more permanent.

We believe the cost of the areaway method to be about twice that of the waterproofing membrane method – perhaps $400,000 vs. $200,000.

Soon we will begin geotechnical work in the subsurface around the perimeter of the Courthouse to learn more about the potential effectiveness of the two waterproofing methods. What we don’t want to happen, for instance, is to sink a lot of money into either waterproofing method only to find out that water is coming up from underneath the basement slab.

Recently, there has been discussion of adding paid firefighters to what has long been an all-volunteer service. How would the costs and benefits of this change impact Newberry County homeowners and businesses? And how would it impact the unpaid volunteers?

We are concerned about two things that are adversely impacting our responses to fire emergencies. One is the fact that many firefighters work outside the county during the day and simply aren’t available to respond to daytime fire emergencies. The other is that firefighter training standards and incident reporting requirements have become significantly more burdensome in recent years. Both problems speak to the question: How much can you require of volunteers? In order for the volunteer firefighters to continue doing what they love to do, they will have to have some assistance.

Obviously, everyone’s interest in making the fire response system work lies in protecting lives and property. Even with the limited use of paid firefighters, that is going to cost more money. In some cases, fire service expenditures by local governments improve insurance premiums. However, our efforts are going to be focused on protecting lives and property. We are first and foremost, from a fire services perspective, in the business of fighting fires, which only coincidentally involves us in the calculation of fire insurance premiums.

What is the status of the Old Library/Old Post Office renovations, and what will be the eventual purpose of the building once renovations are completed?

Recently, Council awarded a construction contract to preserve the outside envelope of the building. This effort has focused on making sure the building is weather tight and aesthetically in good repair. It involves roof repair work, painting, landscaping, and a rudimentary HVAC system that will allow the building to “breathe.” Unfortunately, the company that was awarded the contract defaulted on the project mid-way through. On June 11, we will be accepting bids to finish the remainder of this work.

By resolution, Council has conditionally pledged the use of this building as a museum. The Newberry County Historical and Museum Society is attempting to develop a business plan for the further repair and future operations of the building for this purpose. If they are successful, the building will become the Newberry County/Newberry College Museum.

Has the County’s new speculative building at the Mid-Carolina Commerce Park generated any interest since its completion, and in what timeframe does the County expect to sell it?

The building has done a good job of generating the interest of industrial development prospects in Newberry County; this building alone has been responsible for at least a half-dozen prospect visits over the past several months. We expect the building to sell within the next eighteen months or so. In the meantime, favorable financing from both the banks and the Newberry Electric Cooperative make it a cost effective marketing program for industrial recruitment. Even without being occupied by a permanent tenant, the spec building is doing what it was designed to do: generate interest in Newberry County.

How is the new mega site being regarded by prospective industry, and what are the criteria for choosing a buyer of the property? Would a company be required to buy all 2,000 acres of the site?

While we cannot disclose the names of specific companies, there have been corporate visits to the mega site. But no company has committed to the site at this point. That being said, this property is part of a long-range strategy. It is common for large sites of this kind to be on the market for several years – even a decade – before finding the right buyer.

The right buyer won’t necessarily need all of the property. To take down even part of it, however, a company will have to make substantial credible commitments to investment and job creation. This is a site where we expect eventual investment in the billion-dollar range, and where we expect jobs to number in the thousands. The company that locates on the I-26 mega site will have to be one with an international presence and a long, proven track record.

The Sheriff’s Department has moved into its new headquarters. Now that it is finished, what is your appraisal of how well the building was transformed from a tech school campus to its new use?

It’s always gratifying to meet a major community need with an existing structure. Communities across the country suffer from areas of blight caused by the abandonment of buildings. This project required a lot of modifications, but ultimately the old armory has provided the largest department of our county government with a long-term home – and with room to continue growing. It has turned out to be a great facility, and as we put the finishing touches on it over the next several months, it will look even more settled and permanent.

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