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Bethune to hire part-time police officer
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Bethune Police Chief Joey Cobb has been very busy lately. Busy enough for Bethune Town Council to plan on getting Cobb some extra help.

Following an executive session, Councilman John Heflin motioned to hire a second, part-time officer. Council passed the motion unanimously.

“I am not one who is in favor of taxes,” Heflin noted. “But the fact is, the town has to be able to live within its means and at the moment, we don’t have taxes and therefore no additional revenue. So if you’re wondering why we’re looking at part-time instead of full-time, that’s why.”

Heflin then made a second motion, which also passed unanimously, to grant Cobb a 5 percent pay raise.

Cobb, who started back on the job in late December, has hit the ground running, Bethune Mayor Charles McCoy said. Since the first of the year, the town has experienced a rash of thefts and break-ins, mostly at downtown businesses. 

“Whenever I handle an incident, I generate a case number through the county system,” Cobb said. “That case number stays with the case through the investigative process and through the court process. Last year, 2015, we had 31 total incidents that required case numbers. As of tonight, I have generated 17 case numbers since the first of the year.”

Cobb said the situations are being vigorously and actively investigated but he urged patience -- and caution -- until arrests can be made.

“If it seems like we’re taking our time, it’s because we don’t want to jump the gun,” he said. “When we put people in jail, we want everything we need in place to successfully prosecute them so that they stay there.”

Cobb also thanked the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, which he said has “bent over backward” to help the town deal with this latest surge in criminal activity. Not only is there an investigator assigned to help Cobb, but there will be a deputy patrolling the town when Cobb is off duty.

In the meantime, Cobb and the town are looking at ways to beef up public safety.

“I can’t split myself in two and be in all places all the time,” he said. “That’s why council will be looking to hire someone else.”

Security cameras are another option being considered.

“Cameras can be effective -- in fact, I have been able to gather some good information just from footage from some of the cameras already located in some of the businesses,” Cobb said.

But an alert citizenry reporting any suspicious activity is still one of the most effective resources the town has, Cobb said. 

“What I don’t want to happen here is to have the town become the Wild West,” he said. “I don’t want citizens confronting these people if they don’t have to -- call us, pick up the phone and hit 911 -- that’s what we’re here for.”

Cobb also said people should report any information, no matter how small or insignificant it seems. 

“You just never know what might be the key to the whole thing. One little thing to you might very well be the one thing we need, so please, let us know,” Cobb said.

Cobb also said he would do his best to keep the public informed -- without hampering the investigation.

“We’re going to get them,” he said.

Other business discussed:

• Councilman Don Witham gave an update on the city water system upgrade and grant application. Witham reported in December that because the engineering study had taken so long to complete, part of the town’s grant application had expired and had to be re-submitted. This has been done and everything looks to be in order, he said. Witham also said council will hold a public meeting Jan. 28 at to discuss the project.

• Mayor McCoy reported a problem with animals overturning trash cans in the downtown area. Part of the problem is the fact that, in spite of ordinances and repeated warnings, some people are putting kitchen garbage into the downtown trashcans. McCoy also noted the town does have a leash law and will enforce it.

• Councilman John Fulmer gave an update on the Kershaw County School District’s facilities meetings and potential referendum items. Fulmer and Councilman John Heflin both stated the town’s ongoing position has been and will continue to be that Bethune wants the elementary school to stay in Bethune.

“I don’t know where anyone got the idea we were willing to move 20 miles to North Central, but that is absolutely not the case,” Fulmer said. “Our position has always been and always will be that we want our school here.”

Fulmer encouraged citizens to continue to contact school board members to let their views be known.

Heflin added that council remains united on this issue and furthermore, the town has proven it has paid for its school services.

“It is time for us to get our fair share,” Heflin said.

• Heflin also proposed the town consider implementing a hospitality tax, which is a 2 percent surcharge on prepared food and beverages in the town. The money from H-Tax is used for projects designed to increase and encourage tourism. Heflin provided council with information on H-Tax in South Carolina and suggested council further discuss the idea at its next regular meeting.

• Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns gave a brief update about the county’s accomplishments in 2015 and goals for the upcoming year. Burns also congratulated and thanked town council and the citizens of Bethune for its community pride, spirit, engagement, and accomplishments.