Coffee with the Mayor and City Manager updates community

Elyssa Haven for The Newberry Observer
Mayor Foster Senn greeted the community and welcomed them to the Coffee with the Mayor and City Manager event. - Elyssa Haven | For The Newberry Observer
Community members heard from several city staff and other community leaders at Thursday’s Coffee with the Mayor and City Manager. - Elyssa Haven | For The Newberry Observer

NEWBERRY – Community members had the chance to hear from several city staff Thursday morning during the city’s Coffee with the Mayor and City Manager event at Half Full. Other community leaders were also able to give updates on news and projects happening in Newberry.

Fire Chief Keith Minick shared good news from the city’s fire department of a rescue made by their team on Feb. 6 at Indian Hills Apartments. Crews made entry into the apartment where they were able to knock the fire down and locate an individual slumped over and unresponsive, Minick said.

“We did not have our hopes up but the good news is that he went from being in intensive care to a regular room in a few days,” he said. “He is very thankful and we are thankful to have good news to share.”

Minick said a neighbor heard the working smoke alarm and called the fire department. Across the state last year, Minick said there were 101 fire fatalities. Last January there were 14 fatalities in South Carolina, while this year it was up to 23.

“It’s because of this that we are really pushing having working smoke alarms in your home,” Minick said. “We are really concentrating to make sure people are educated with those working smoke alarms and have a plan.”

City Manager Matt DeWitt said he couldn’t be more proud of the job the city’s fire department does each and every day and he hoped the gentleman who was rescued would be around a long time to tell that story.

“It was a big deal and it’s a good day when you can save somebody’s life,” DeWitt said.

From the city’s police department, Chief Roy McClurkin said they had success as a team from the several community meetings they have done throughout Newberry, and were continuing to focus on community policing.

The police department has been busy with the accreditation process, McClurkin said, and was currently going through their seventh accreditation process which would mark their twenty-first year. The department does everything by policy and McClurkin said the assessors would be looking through their files to see what policies they had and to make sure they were “practicing what they preached.”

“They come in, do a mock assessment, go through our files and make sure that we don’t have anything that shows we are out of compliance,” he said.

Following the mock assessment, the actual team comes in for their assessment which will begin on Feb. 20.

“Accreditation is very practical and I believe maybe this is why we have not had as many incidents as in other places because of our practices,” said Mayor Foster Senn.

McClurkin also invited citizens to the police department’s next community meeting which will be held on April 19 at Willowbrook Park at 6:30 p.m.

DeWitt spoke with the community on behalf of the city’s new PayGo residential billing system which is being released as an option for residential customers. The system, DeWitt said, puts the power back into the customer’s hands as it allows them to see in real-time what how much power and water they’re using so they can control their usage.

“We are the first municipal in the Southeast to launch this for utilities,” DeWitt said.

Under the old billing system, as the city collects data, DeWitt said a customer’s bill runs a month behind, making it difficult for them to remember what they were doing a month ago that could have caused their bill to spike. Based on how much a customer has prepaid toward their bill, the system will show them an estimated amount of days they have left before they need to add more money to their account, similar to prepaid phone.

If money should run out on the account during the middle of the night, this system also allows the customer to visit Walmart or Dollar General and add money to their account so their utilities would be reconnected without having to come in or wait for City Hall.

Questions about the system revolved around whether residents who were interested would need any special equipment installed at their home to which DeWitt said everything that was necessary to do it was already in place, and should residents be interested they could stop by City Hall to learn more and get signed up. Customers should soon be receiving notice of the PayGo billing system in their utility bill.

From the City’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department, Director Scott Sawyer spoke with the community on the success of the Oakland Tennis Center and the upcoming South Carolina Clay Conference to be held next weekend. As part of the conference, Sawyer said there would be a pottery sale that was open to the public and would likely be one of the largest in the state.

Proposed drawings for the city’s recreation complex, which was part of the recent Capital Project Sales Tax, were presented. Sawyer said the project would be ready to go to bid soon.

The location for the recreation complex will be on Dixie Drive in Newberry, with the entrance off of Glenn Street Extension. Sawyer said the entrance off of Dixie Drive was not as practical from a safety standpoint.

Features Sawyer highlighted from the complex were a splash pad and two ball fields – one being 350 feet and the other 375 feet.

“Those will accommodate everything we do and can be made smaller if needed with temporary fencing,” Sawyer said.

The complex will also be home to an accessible playground, Sawyer said as well as access to a cabin on a 4.7 acre pond that has a one-half mile trail.

“We hope to expand that in the future,” Sawyer said of the trail.

While the city has never had an outdoor water feature they have managed, Sawyer said his vision was fishing, paddle boats and maybe some outdoor ping-pong tables.

“Things that anyone can go out and do, a real family atmosphere,” he said.

As a proposed time-table, Sawyer said he did not anticipate being able to get into the recreation complex before mid-2019 if everything went as planned.

Other community speakers

Jeff Wicker, alumni coordinator for Newberry College, spoke on things going on at the college. Wicker was excited to share that Newberry College’s debt load is about half of the average of the state’s debt load.

Newberry College has recently launched a loan repayment plan for graduates that make less than a $40,000 per year threshold. Wicker said there was now a plan in place for those graduates to help them pay off their student loan debt.

“We feel like this plan allows people to take on jobs and not to be forced into a paycheck out of college just to pay back those loans,” Wicker said. “It may allow them the opportunity to get into public service or other careers, knowing they’ll get assistance with their loans.”

Wicker said Newberry College was excited about the return of men’s and women’s track and field back on campus, as well as some new online programs now being offered to include a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy and Nursing.

“Making education more accessible is a win-win for everyone as a whole,” Wicker said.

Denise Reid also spoke with the community Thursday of the process of the Newberry Museum, which was also a recipient of Capital Project Sales Tax monies. Reid said a base bid had come in under budget to include the renovations of the building and they would be moving ahead within the next couple of weeks to start construction.

Reid said the museum was gifted the first washing machine off of the production line of Samsung in Newberry which they were very excited to have.

On Tuesday, Feb. 20, Reid said the Newberry Opera House would be celebrating their 20th anniversary by giving free tours as well as special goody bags. From 3:00-3:45 p.m. on that day, Reid said there will be interactive children’s games to include trivia of the Opera House, a writing and coloring station and more. At 5:00 p.m., a “birthday party” will be held in the theater to included poetry readings from the first dedication of the Opera House in 1882 as well as poetry about the Opera House submitted from within the community.

“It will really be a time to bring in local talent and showcase that talent,” Reid said.

Tribute Tuesdays will also begin at the Newberry Opera House on February 20. The cost is five dollars for children and $10 for adults. Each Tuesday evening until March 20, local talent will be featured to include singers from local elementary schools, middle/high school honor band/choruses, with the final being the “Sounds of Newberry” where community members have auditioned for the chance to perform at the Opera House.

Mayor Foster Senn greeted the community and welcomed them to the Coffee with the Mayor and City Manager event.
https://www.newberryobserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/web1_DSC07402.jpgMayor Foster Senn greeted the community and welcomed them to the Coffee with the Mayor and City Manager event. Elyssa Haven | For The Newberry Observer

Community members heard from several city staff and other community leaders at Thursday’s Coffee with the Mayor and City Manager.
https://www.newberryobserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/web1_DSC07403.jpgCommunity members heard from several city staff and other community leaders at Thursday’s Coffee with the Mayor and City Manager. Elyssa Haven | For The Newberry Observer

Elyssa Haven for The Newberry Observer