Kershaw County Council voted unanimously to extend two separate contracts with Waste Management of South Carolina Inc. to haul and dispose of the county’s solid waste. The votes came after a moderate amount of discussion and some verbal assurances from Waste Management Government Coordinator Mindy Spires-Miller.
Councilman Jimmy Jones said he has received many complaints about Waste Management regarding “leaking and smelly” containers and containers not being picked up on time.
“What’s changed?” Jones asked Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter. “Are we going to get this fixed?”
Carpenter said an additional year, through June 2017, for Waste Management’s collection and hauling contract would give the county and the company time to resolve issues. Chairman Julian Burns and Councilman Dennis Arledge said they have also received complaints. A short time later, Burns invited Spires-Miller to a podium to speak to council.
“I understand your concerns. Some of them are legitimate concerns. I’m going to be very frank -- there are times that we don’t get the communication we necessarily need in order to provide the timely service,” Spires-Miller said. “That’s what we’re working through with the administration and staff. We’ve (also) installed pressure gauges on all the compactors, because that’s the majority of your cost. That volumes comes to our landfill in Richland (County). We don’t want to haul a unit when it only weighs 3 tons when it can hold 10-plus tons,” she said.
She said the additional 12 months on the hauling contract will give both staffs the opportunity to “fine tune” the processes for getting containers picked up at all the sites, and creating better communication.
“If at the end of June 2017, Mr. Jones, you decide to cancel, that you no longer want to do business with my company, you have the option to look elsewhere,” Spires-Miller said. “But, if I’m going to be fair and honest … the best thing I can do as a friend and an advocate for this county is to work out any kinks this county might have so in June of 2017, if it’s your palette to move on, I’ve helped you work those kinks out. And, if your option is to go with someone else, you have fine tuned your machine, and that allows you to go into a process with someone else if that’s what you choose to do without having to second guess the process.”
Spires-Miller admitted some of her company’s containers “don’t look good” and is looking to replace them. She said, however, it is sometimes hard to rotate the containers out in order to fix them. She also said the company has begun trading emails with county staff instead of waiting on fax requests to pick up containers.
Jones said he appreciated Spires-Miller coming to speak to council and made him feel better about going along with the contract extensions.
Carpenter said the county loses up to $500,000 a year on solid waste operations. Jones said it has always lost money regardless of how well the processes work. Carpenter said the goal, however, is not to lose money by getting loads to as close to full as possible, finding a balance between effective waste management and cost.
Jones, however, was still not completely happy about the cost to citizens.
“A fee is a tax in disguise,” he said, referring to the county’s solid waste fee. “The difference between a fee and a tax is at least people with a homestead get an exemption with the millage, but not people on fixed incomes with a fee. This type of conversation worries me in that, at a retreat, some might be interested in raising that fee. I will not support raising that fee.”
Regarding the disposal of what Waste Management picks up, the county will pay approximately 2 percent more each year in per-ton costs during a four-year extension of the contract through June 2020. Carpenter pointed out there have not been per-ton increases in many years. Spires-Miller said the fee is associated with using tractors to compact the trash at her company’s landfill.
Tuesday’s meeting began with public comments from nine people. They included Vivian Nelson, who expressed frustration over flooding at her home due to conditions at her home on a street off Black River Road. Later, during council comments, Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. said Nelson’s home is on a state street and he and county administrators are working as hard as they can to get cooperation from the S.C. Department of Transportation to fix the problem.
Gregory Beck, chief of the Blaney Fire Department, introduced himself and gave a short report on 2015 statistics. He asked council to keep the department in mind for staffing and equipment funding.
Justin Jones and Doug Fielding both spoke about what they said they see as council’s irresponsibility for burdening taxpayers with a $17 million debt for infrastructure upgrades. During council briefings, Councilman Jones spoke from a prepared statement on the same subject, saying council approved the $17 million measure on a one-vote majority.
“It was three for (it) and three against until the chairman cast the deciding vote,” Councilman Jones said. “This split decision is testimony to council’s divided vision for obligating ourselves and future generations with heavy tax burdens. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of new industrial clients. We’re told this will occur as a result of our borrowing $17 million and spending $4 million out of our reserves. If industrial clients don’t come, the burden for paying back that money will squarely fall on you and me. The payments on this debt will go on for decades to come. Kershaw County will have to make those payments regardless of whether or not industry chooses to come to Kershaw County.”
Councilman Jones also expressed concern about VisionKershaw 2030, calling it a good start, but “unrealistic” and “misleading” to citizens.
“It’s always good to look ahead and plan for the future. However, Vision 2030 in its current form is fundamentally flawed. Its scope is way too broad. The document calls for programs to be established and changed to occur in order to reach its goals and objectives. Some of these goals appear to be the same old ideas we fought previous administrations over, just repackaged with another name,” Councilman Jones said.
He gave four examples: the county keeping its rural character and establishing a preferred development model; fully-funded utility infrastructure; using incentives, technical assistance and regulations to promote “desirable environmental practices and businesses,” and proposing Lake Wateree have a “mixed-use town center with restaurants, commercial, retail and residential space along with services in the northwest area of the county.”
Councilman Jones said he believes the rural character/preferred development model sounds like a “heavily regulated, no-growth plan to limit residential development.” He further said the infrastructure example makes no mention of public/private partnerships to meet community needs, nor anything about service territory.
“All I saw was government ownership and taxpayer expense,” Councilman Jones said. “Is it even possible for the taxpayers of Kershaw County to pay enough taxes to run sewer lines everywhere they’re needed? If we don’t allow private investment, then it’s left to us taxpayers to foot the bill.”
On the environmental practices and businesses example, he asked whether this would mean there would be no need for advice for or regulations from DHEC.
“Will Kershaw County be the final authority for everything?” Councilman Jones asked.
As for Lake Wateree, Councilman Jones noted much of the land around the lake will not accommodate septic tanks, thereby requiring sewer service.
“If the county can’t afford to provide sewer and refuses to allow private sewer, then how will this development be possible?” he asked. “Vision 2030’s far-reaching plans and duplication of services must be narrowed down to what is possible within a limited budget. When I say limited budget, I’m talking about the ability of the taxpayers of Kershaw County to take on additional taxes.”
Councilman Jones went on to ask how much more money and taxes would need to be raised to afford VisionKershaw 2030’s list of proposed concepts.
“I’m not against moving Kershaw County forward; I’m against higher taxes, duplicating services and overstepping our bounds,” Councilman Jones said, adding he has voted consistently against tax-raising expenditures and offered alternatives. “My one vote could not overcome the ‘gang of four’s’ tax and spend policies. Now, Vision 2030 comes along with a lengthy shopping list someone will have to pay for.”
Chairman Burns also spoke during council briefings with a different message. Noting he has been chairman for one full year, he called 2015 a year of “tremendous progress and accomplishment.”
“I am absolutely convinced that with continued teamwork across this county, and my teammates on council, we are sure of more success in 2016,” he said.
Burns listed the following among those accomplishments:
• $220 million in investments from companies with more than 500 new jobs.
• Progress in workforce development with “WorkKeys” certification and a focus on courses such as mechantronics at the Applied Technology Education Campus (ATEC).
• A “seamless” transition of EMS to county control.
• Pay raises for teachers, county workers and sheriff’s deputies.
• “Heroic” recovery and other work by county personnel and volunteers throughout the county during October’s historic flooding.
• Upgrades to Doby Field, the Kershaw County Recreation Department offices and at the Kershaw County West complex, including the addition of an ADA-compliant playground.
• Upgrades for the sheriff’s and solicitor’s offices as well as the county jail.
• A “unifying, compelling” county-wide look ahead with VisionKershaw 2030, now in draft form.
“The job is far from complete. There is much more to do. So, 2016 will be, for me, one of continuity, momentum and execution,” Burns said.
He said “continuity” and “momentum” need to build on 2015’s successes and remain focused on economic development in 2016 by investing “in ourselves.” By “execution,” he said he mean assuring the county is well-run.
“Recent audits and customer satisfaction surveys say that we are,” Burns said. “I know this county council will continue to be the voice of the people, and to earn the trust of our citizens in all that we do through excellence in county services.”
Burns said it is fundamental for the county to care for the needs of both large and small business owners, setting conditions for their profitability. The county also needs to attract new business to its industrial parks through the careful application of money toward site preparation, infrastructure, signage and, where indicated, buildings.
“It’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs, and that means a trained and ready work force. We will break ground on the Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC) campus this month. I ask the school district to consider that a new ATEC facility be built on the CCTC campus near the 521 exit off I-20. Some may ask, ‘Why?’ In answer, just count the taillights exiting the county each morning for jobs not available here -- a ratio of 3 to 1, with 21,000 of our citizens working elsewhere, but living here,” Burns said.
He said creating a jointly used campus would “be a strong signal to industry” Kershaw County is serious about economic development.
“Setting a unifying vision, aligning policy and resources, and building teams are why the council exists,” Burns said. “The people in turn expect competent, ethical, effective, transparent leadership. This council is committed to those principles.”
And, he said, the payoff is already being seen. He announced the Target Distribution Center in Lugoff expanded its operation Tuesday with an additional 100 jobs. Burns also said Black River Electric Cooperative is announcing a $50,000 grant to further develop Governor’s Hill; Fairfield Electric Cooperative recently announced $278,000 to assist with Heritage Pointe.
“2016 is already off to a great start. We are open for business!” Burns declared.
Also speaking during the public comment section were United Way of Kershaw County President Donny Supplee about Housing Authority appointments council considered Tuesday, and Sidney Butler on the need to improve Woodward Park. In addition, Jim Kerry, Monica Henderson and Richard Taylor all spoke on the need for further assistance in combating remaining flooding problems on Gary Goff Road in the Elgin area.
Also Tuesday, council unanimously appointed Archie Todd to replace the late Barbara Swindall on the Housing Authority board and to award a contract to Zuercher Technologies LLC to consolidate all public safety-related software. It also heard a public presentation from Dr. Walt Collins of the University of South Carolina-Lancaster.