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Camden could become part of new neighborhood initiative program
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Camden kicks off holiday season Tuesday with ‘Classical Tree Lighting Ceremony’

The city of Camden is kicking off the holiday season with its Classical Tree Lighting Ceremony in front of Camden City Hall at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The public is invited to attend and enjoy hot chocolate and holiday music featuring a small ensemble of the Camden Community Concert Band and musical ensemble “We Three.” The city will be collecting canned goods for Food for the Soul at the event. City utility crews have been working hard placing decorations throughout Camden in preparation for the holiday season. Come help Mayor Tony Scully kick off the holiday season in Camden and “throw the switch” at the tree lighting.

Camden has many things to offer this holiday season.

Visit the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County on Friday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. for the popular Holiday Sales Show preview night. The sale will run through Dec. 17.

Explore local homes in Camden decorated for the holiday season on Saturday with the Candlelight Tour of Homes presented by the Camden Junior Welfare League. The tour will start at the Camden Archives and Museum from 3 to 8 p.m. Purchase tickets ahead of time or before you begin.

The sixth annual Old McCaskill’s Country Christmas Trunk Show will be held Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. at Old McCaskill’s Farm.

Don’t forget to line the streets of downtown Camden on Dec. 13 for the Kershaw County Christmas Parade beginning at 10 a.m. Make a day out of it and stop by Colonial Christmas at Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site from 2 to 5 p.m.

For additional events in the area during the holiday season, please visit the community calendar of the city’s website, www.cityofcamden.org.

(This information provided by the city of Camden.)

The city of Camden could become part of a new program to fund the removal and redevelopment of blighted residential properties. Kyle Kelly, director of economic and community sustainability for the Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments (COG), spoke to Camden City Council about the Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP) during its Nov. 25 meeting.

Kelly said the city could receive a maximum of $35,000 per identified property out of a $35 million allocation to South Carolina from the U.S. Department of the Treasury to create the program. He said the funds are the result of a joint venture between the S.C. State Housing Authority and the State Housing Corporation.

“The purpose of the program is to stabilize property values through the removal of blighted property in strategically targeted areas,” Kelly said. “The goal is to prevent further foreclosures for existing property owners and act as a catalyst to initiate redevelopment and revitalization in areas that are suffering from blight.”

Under the program, the applicant city and its partner, possibly the Santee-Regional Development Corporation (S-RDC), would purchase eligible properties -- vacant single- or multi-family residential structures declared blighted -- tear them down and then re-use the properties for productive use. Non-residential and commercial properties are not included in the program.

The S-RDC is a 501(c)(4) corporation created by the Santee-Lynches COG and has the same board of directors, Kelly said. He said the application period is open now through Jan. 12, and is not expected to be repeated. Kelly also said while the Santee-Lynches, Pee Dee and Lower Savannah COGs region has a $6.6 million “step-aside” from the $35 million allocation to draw from, there may be a way to access the entire $35 million pot.

City Manager Mel Pearson confirmed the city is in contact with Kershaw County officials to see about jointly applying for the funds since there are blighted areas in the city overlapping with blighted county areas.

“One thing we believe is important in this grant process is that … we’re trying to cluster as many blighted structures in one area and make the grant more attractive. We may have multiple applications,” Pearson said.

In answer to a question from Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford, Kelly said entities such as Habitat for Humanity could ultimately receive the properties depending on how applicants and partners decide to redevelop them. He also said the funds should be available by next summer, with applications being approved in February.

Pearson said, under the program, if the city’s partner does not redevelop a blighted property into a new residence within three years, the property would become “free and clear” for the city to manage. Although the program does not require a financial match from the city, Pearson also told council staff may return to request money be set aside from the city’s demolition fund as a “good faith” gesture in an effort to obtain a larger portion of the NIP funds.

Also at the Nov. 25 meeting, council received its annual audit report from Mary Ellen Green, a certified public account with the firm of Cantey, Tiller, Pierce & Green. Green announced the firm issued an unqualified opinion, the best opinion an accounting firm can issue for an audit.

According to Green, the city suffered a $155,285 loss in the general fund for Fiscal Year 2014, which ended June 30, with the unreserved portion of the general fund decreasing from a FY 2013 balance of $3.99 million to $3.86 million at the end of FY 2014.

However, in a phone message Wednesday, Pearson explained the $155,000 loss is not due to operations, but due to $186,000 spent on purchasing and cleaning up the former Maxway property at the corner of Broad and Rutledge streets and to repair an exposed wall there. Pearson said if the city had not spent that money, there would have been a $31,000 gain from operations.

Green said a restricted general fund balance of $61,675 reflects the remaining funds from the 2000 sale of watershed property and some residual funds for the lease purchase of equipment.

Green then talked about relatively minor differences in the percentages of revenue sources and expenses in the general fund between the two fiscal years. In FY 2014, 35 percent of revenues, or just under $2.36 million, came from taxes; another nearly $1.77 million (26 percent), from license and permits. Public safety continues to be the largest expenditure in the general fund, accounting for 45 percent of expenses at nearly $4.23 million, compared to $3.73 million (42 percent) in FY 2013.

Net income in the utility fund -- referred to as the proprietary fund in the audit -- declined for the third straight fiscal year. Utility fund net income stood at just more than $4.2 million at the end of FY 2012, dropped to nearly $3.75 million by the end of FY 2013 and fell again to only about $2.96 million as of June 30. Green said the reductions are primarily due to an increase in the cost of purchasing wholesale electric power, money expended on the construction of the city’s wastewater treatment plant and debt service on a new bond this year. She also confirmed for Polk that some of the increased expenditures are from continuing to place or move utility lines underground.

Gross profit also showed reductions in the utility fund. Electric service gross profit fell from $3.37 million in FY 2013 to $2.63 million for FY 2014. Water gross revenues dropped from $1.56 million in FY 2013 to $1.4 million in FY 2014. Sewer revenues also fell, from $885,623 in FY 2013 to $769,871 in FY 2014.

The utility fund’s net position in terms of capital assets and unrestricted funds, however, rose significantly from FY 2013 to FY 2014. Green reported utility fund capital assets increased from almost $37.77 to more than $40.3 million, while the unrestricted funds rose from nearly $7.63 million to just more than $8.77 million. Green said that is due to the construction of the city’s new wastewater treatment plant. Bonds decreased, however, thanks to a change allowed by the State Revolving Fund on money borrowed for the plant’s construction.

Overall, the city’s unrestricted days of cash on hand also rose significantly, from almost $7.3 million to more than $8.64 million, or 115 days of cash on hand.

Green also discussed estimates the city needed to make due to accounting rules. The most significant estimates concerned post-employment benefits and allowances for bad debt.