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Camden City Hall elevator in proposed FY 2015 budget

Posted: April 10, 2014 5:39 p.m.
Updated: April 11, 2014 5:00 a.m.

An elevator could finally be installed at Camden City Hall if the city’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget goes through as proposed. Camden City Council held a public hearing on the proposed budget during its meeting Tuesday night. City Manager Mel Pearson presented a budget summary that included $200,000 toward the elevator’s installation in its project improvement fund. The fiscal year begins July 1.

The city has tried to set aside money for the elevator for years. Back in April 2012, under former City Manager Kevin Bronson, city staff presented a $2.2 million proposal to make city hall improvements in three stages, with the first phase being broken into three parts itself. The very first part of the first phase, dubbed “1A” included adding the elevator, a south side handicap access, adding a new exit from the basement level, modifying the north stairway, providing new handicap accessible restrooms, waterproofing the foundation walls and replacing and upgrading electrical system components. The cost estimate for that work came to $590,000.

During a telephone interview Thursday morning, Pearson said the $200,000 will cover the entire cost of installing the elevator and that other city hall projects are “not in play” right now.

“It’s designed to run from the basement level to where (a) jury room is now,” Pearson said. “Construction will start sometime after July, probably in late summer or early fall and be completed within the fiscal year.”

Other items in the project improvement fund include continuing to set aside $30,000 for abandoned building demolitions, $106,000 as another payment on the city’s 800 MHz emergency radios, $12,500 to the Santee Wateree Regional Transportation Authority, $28,000 to replace the roof at the Camden Police Department, and a total of $172,900 in vehicle lease payments.

City staff is proposing to levy a 6 mills tax increase, raising the amount of millage dedicated to the project improvement fund to 13.8 mills. That, Pearson said, would help raise $474,700 during the fiscal year to be added to an $83,000 carrying over from Fiscal Year 2013.

The full proposed budget, containing the project improvement fund along with the general, paving, local revenue and utility funds, balances out at $40.73 million.

The $8.95 million general fund includes a proposed 2 percent across the board salary increase to city staff. That includes a 1.5 percent cost of living increase and a .5 percent to 1 percent merit increase depending on the staff member.

“We’re also proposing, in the area of personnel costs, our health and medical expenses … will increase about 5-1/2 percent and the employees will pick up a 5-1/2 percent increase as well,” Pearson said. “Our pension costs for the city, the legislature has levied about a rate increase for the South Carolina Retirement System in the amount of about 3 percent. And the police and fire retirement system will go up this coming fiscal year by 7 percent.”

Pearson said a grant the city has applied for will offset the cost of hiring three additional firefighters. However, the general fund also includes a proposed 12 percent fire service rate increase, affecting residents outside the city limits that are in the Camden Fire Department’s fire protection district.

“I would say that it is time to do that,” Pearson said. “It’s been 17 years since we applied a rate increase for those services.”

The proposed $1.3 million local source revenue fund estimates the city will raise another $665,000 in hospitality taxes (HTAX) during the new fiscal year, $30,000 in accommodations taxes (ATAX) to be used for community grants and another $15,000 in ATAX funds for tourism purposes. Wine and beer permits are estimated to bring in $9,000, while the county will reportedly be chipping in $31,000 to help pay the salary of a new tourism director. Approximately $551,000 is carrying over from the current fiscal year.

One of the largest expenses under the local source revenue fund is $150,000 is being set aside for Kendall Park improvements.

“The walking trail has been compromised and needs to be restructured and regarded,” Pearson said Thursday morning. “It will probably be the same design as far as where the track lays, but there is a special rubberized walking surface we would like to install there … and do other upgrades to equipment, benches and tables.”

Pearson also said the city hopes to work with KershawHealth on the project, but that the proposal has yet to move into any kind of approval process at the hospital.

“The hospital staff uses it quite often, and we would encourage their patients to use it. We want to … do this with them so we don’t miss any opportunities,” he said.

Other proposed large expenditures include $100,000 each for community grants, promoting the Ross Beard Gun Collection at the Camden Archives and Museum, and the city’s share of costs associated with the new tourism director.

In his April 4 column, Camden Mayor Tony Scully named Suzi Sale as the new director. Pearson said she will start the week of April 21.

The budget’s proposed $29.32 million utility fund includes a 3 percent electric rate increase starting July 1 as part of incremental increases the city is making in line with its new contract with Duke Progress Energy. However, despite the launch of Camden’s new wastewater treatment plant, the proposed budget does not include any water or sewer rate increases.

One of the big projects being proposed out of the utility fund at an estimated cost of $850,000 is moving electrical lines along the city’s proposed truck route. For various reasons, Camden’s current truck route is not considered “viable” and, therefore, unenforceable. The S.C. Department of Transportation has agreed in recent years, however, to perform work along certain roadways to make the route viable. Proposed work includes Ehrenclou Drive, Chesnut Ferry Ext., York Street, Rippondon Street, Springdale Drive, Boykin Road and West DeKalb Street. Under the proposal, streets will be widened and/or shifted, the electrical lines moving with those changes.

“That’s a large allocation within that fund,” Pearson said.

He said the city is seeking assistance to offset at least some of those costs, but needed to include the $850,000 in the budget in the event that does not happen.

The city plans to spend another nearly $377,900 to underground electric lines and add decorative lighting on Market Street between Rutledge and York streets.

“We believe that is, in itself, a good incentive for community improvements,” Pearson said.

Finally, the city’s proposed paving fund for FY 2015 includes another $520,000 worth of work on Commerce Alley and the surrounding area. It also includes $56,000 to pave the entryway into Scott Park on Battleship Road.

The only person to ask a question during the budget public hearing was Boy Scout Troop 38 Leader Greg Simonson. Simonson, who brought members of the troop with him Tuesday, asked about the elevator and whether or not city hall as ever had one.

Scully explained that there has not been one. Instead, those requiring assistance have had to use a lift-chair system that runs along one rail of the main staircase from the building’s ground floor to the second floor. He and Pearson confirmed the elevator is being added in order to comply with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

Council will take up first and second readings of an ordinance enacting the new budget in May.

In other business, council voted unanimously, 4-0, with Councilman Walter Long absent, to proclaim April as Fair Housing Month. Council also voted unanimously to appoint Thoyd Warren to the HTAX Advisory Committee.

Council ended the meeting with an executive session to discuss an undisclosed personnel matter.

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