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City council approves demolition funding resolution

Posted: April 13, 2017 5:08 p.m.
Updated: April 14, 2017 1:00 a.m.

At least eight more -- and possibly 10 -- blighted homes could be demolished in the coming weeks in Camden. Tuesday evening, Camden City Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the city to advance $100,000 to the Santee-Lynches Regional Development Corporation (S-LRDC). That money will help the S-LRDC -- an arm of the Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments (COG) -- close on the final phase of blighted homes identified as part of Camden’s participation in the Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP).

The city first became aware of the NIP in late 2014, learning it could receive up to $35,000 per identified property out of a $35 million allocation to South Carolina by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The NIP’s purpose is to stabilize property values by removing blighted properties in strategically targeted areas. Only residential properties are eligible.

The city partnered with Kershaw County to apply for what became a $1.6 million NIP grant in April 2015. The boundary for the NIP program was then expanded to remove blighted homes anywhere within the city limits of Camden and an area around the city boundary in the county.

The NIP defines a blighted property as having any of the following characteristics: dilapidated, unsanitary, unsafe or vermin infested. They must be deteriorated to the point where they cause a threat to human health, safety and the public welfare.

During Tuesday’s meeting, City Manger Mel Pearson the program has been successful. He said the city had considered more than 100 residential properties, but many could not be acquired because of various legal issues.

“We had enough money allocated by way of a grant to acquire 47 properties, and it looks like we will be able to close and get ownership of 38 of those properties,” Pearson said. “Some of them -- the reason we’re not getting more -- is simply the title issues. We still have about 10 or so properties that are being considered by the state housing authority.”

The city received a reminder April 4 that the S.C. State Housing Authority would need Camden to have any properties “under control” by March 31, acquired by June 30 and “completed” by Dec. 1. Tuesday, Pearson said he had just learned the “under control” deadline had been pushed back to April 28.

“Hopefully, we can pick up a couple of more properties that are on our list to add to the 38 that we anticipate closing on,” he said.

Pearson reminded council how the Santee-Lynches COG brought the NIP program to Camden’s attention, calling it “fortunate.”

“Once we were awarded the grant, they were part of it by the way of their regional development corporation. They have done a great deal of the legwork -- that staff has been remarkable in working with our staff … to get to where are,” Pearson said.

He said even with the new April 28 “under control” date, the S-LRDC does not have the available funds to complete gaining title to the eight -- or possibly 10 -- final properties. The S-LRDC is supposed to be reimbursed by the housing authority.

“So, there’s a timing issue and I think, as any good partner would do … we would need to make an advance payment for some of the expenditures to close out as many houses as we can between now and April 28,” Pearson said.

The S-LRDC will reimburse the city when it receives the reimbursement from the Housing Authority.

Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford said she believes the NIP has been “great” for Camden and Kershaw County.

“Also, (along with) Sumter … we were the only two cities and counties in this area that received that money, so we are fortunate that we just happened to partner with the COG,” Drakeford said.

Councilman Jeffrey Graham, who represents Camden with the S-LRDC, indicated he likes being able to do something with devalued properties.

“It’s a big deal to start cleaning up neighborhoods that have been blighted for a long time,” Graham said. “It’s already making an impact. Other people are improving their properties as well.”

Answering a question from Councilwoman Joanna Craig, Pearson said the NIP is likely to be available again.

Also Tuesday, no one from the public spoke during a public hearing held on Camden’s proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget. Pearson briefed council on the projections, saying there could be some changes due to budget proceedings in the S.C. General Assembly. He said the proposed budget contains no tax or fee increases.

Pearson said staff is pleased with the budget, especially as it allows the city to continue with existing projects, including the city’s tennis complex and infrastructure projects.

“As you ride around town, you’ll still see streets, shoulders and road dug up in certain areas. It can be inconvenient for certain residents, but that’s a price we’re paying for getting a lot done in town,” Pearson said. “We are getting very good reports from our residents about what they see going on, even though there are minor inconveniences. They seem to be excited.”

Council will take up first reading of the budget at its April 25 meeting and second (and final) reading on May 9.

In other business, council received an annual update from S.C. Equine Park Vice President John Cushman, who said the park’s attendance and finances are stable; and proclaimed the month of April as National Child Abuse and Prevention Month in Camden.

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