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Ernest Health option passes on second reading

Posted: May 30, 2016 5:54 p.m.
Updated: May 31, 2016 1:00 a.m.

The possibility of a new rehabilitation hospital coming to the Elgin area took a step closer to reality May 24 as Kershaw County Council unanimously passed second reading of an ordinance authorizing an agreement which would grant Ernest Health an option to purchase land at Wateree Executive Park.

Council actually took two votes: one to amend the agreement to change the name of the option holder from “Project Health” to “Ernest Health,” and one to pass second reading of the amended ordinance.

Ernest Health operates a number of rehabilitation and long-term acute care hospitals across the country providing specialized medical and rehabilitative services to patients recovering from disabilities caused by injuries or illnesses, or from chronic or complex medical conditions, according to its website. It already operates two facilities in South Carolina, one in Greenwood and the other in Spartanburg.

The agreement provides Ernest Health with a 12-month option to purchase 8.63 acres near KershawHealth’s Elgin outpatient/urgent care center at the business park. If Ernest Health exercises its option, it would purchase the acreage at a cost of $30,000 per acre, or $258,900. It would then invest $17.8 million during a five-year period to build a facility and create 113 jobs.

Council Chairman Julian Burns said he understood Ernest Health is seeking a certificate of need. County Administrator Vic Carpenter confirmed that is the case.

“The company in question is seeking to acquire this option so upon receiving a certificate of need from DHEC (Department of Health and Environmental Control) … they would be able to begin construction of this project,” Carpenter said.

DHEC uses the certificate of need process to “promote cost containment, prevent unnecessary duplication of healthcare facilities and services, guide the establishment of health facilities and services which will best serve public need and ensure high quality of services are provided” in South Carolina, according to its website.

Responding to a question from Burns, Kershaw County Economic Development Director Peggy McLean said the 8.86-acres site has already been cleared and prepped for Ernest Health to begin construction.

“That impressed the person that was the consultant -- actually, he’s with the company -- when he viewed the property,” McLean said.

She said there are no other prepped sites within the park at this time, but she and staff are “working hard” to move forward with preparing more sites. McLean confirmed about two-thirds of the business park is left to be developed, some of which is taken up by ponds, but other sites would be suitable for back office or medical-type facilities.

In other business during the May 24 meeting, council:

• heard a public presentation from Mike Briggs of the Central South Carolina Alliance, with which Burns and McLean accompanied during recent overseas economic development trips;

• proclaimed May as American Legion Poppy Month;

• unanimously approved a set of guidelines for the county’s Accommodations Tax (ATAX) Committee to use in vetting ATAX applications, including penalizing organizations who are granted money but do not collect it by disqualifying them from the process the following year;

• unanimously passed third reading of an ordinance rezoning 25.91 acres held by Small Family Children’s LTD from general development to residential R-15 in order to facilitate the building out of Phase 5 of the King Haigler subdivision adjacent to Pine Tree Hill Elementary School; and

• unanimously passed second reading of a fee in lieu agreement with Protective Packaging of Lugoff in conjunction with the company’s plan to invest $2.5 million into a two-year expansion.

During council briefings, Councilman Jimmy Jones read the following statement in relation to a situation which came up during the May 10 council meeting’s public comments period:

“At our last meeting, as is normally the case, several citizens of Kershaw County spoke during citizens comments. At one point, some remarks were made that resulted in those comments being ruled out of order, and the citizen was cautioned about his tone.

“That should never have happened. The right of our citizens to speak freely and openly without fear of being silenced has been a hard won right in Kershaw County. It was not too many years ago in Kershaw County that citizens were discouraged from speaking out. Secret meetings, unpublished agendas and limited public comments were the way things were done.

“Now, our citizens feel that they have the ability to be heard. They have the right to truly express their thoughts and opinions. Yes, basic rules of decorum and decency must be followed. No names should ever be mentioned, and cursing and hateful language cannot be tolerated. But what happened last meeting was none of that.

“Instead, it was statements made that might have hit close to home for some members of county council, or might have implied actions taken that were illegal. Unfortunately for us, such statements, though uncomfortable, are neither inappropriate nor out of line.

“Here is the harsh truth: Elected officials must be able to take it. We must tolerate opinions that we do not agree with, and statements that are inaccurate. The law has clearly set the standard regarding public officials need to accept harsh criticism and even slander.

“It is my hope that going forward, we will be less thin skinned and more tolerant of our citizens opinions. Let us never return to the days when citizens felt that they could not speak to this county council.”

Council will next meet June 14, which Carpenter noted is a primary election day in South Carolina and Kershaw County.

(Clarifications from Friday’s article regarding second reading of the county’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget: None of the amendments passed May 24 included using reserve funds to pay for employee raises. Those were to be covered in an amendment which would have raised the solid waste fee, but the amendment failed. The capital reserve fund was increased, but those funds can only be used for capital, not operations purchases. In addition, reserve funds will only be used to pay for two new EMS stations and some equipment, but not for any operations EMS growth. Such growth would be paid for through expected growth in EMS revenues. The C-I apologizes for any confusion and thanks Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter for the clarifications.)

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