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Setting priorities
KCC looking at courthouse, U.S. 1 corridor, more for FY 2020
KCC Retreat (Web).jpg
Kershaw County Councilman Ben Connell places a sticker indicating his ranking for a particular goal or objective during council’s annual strategic planning retreat on Feb. 2. Ranking the priorities came at the end of the more than nine-hour retreat at the Kershaw County Economic Development Office. In the background, fellow councilmen (from left) Al Bozard, Sammie Tucker Jr., Chairman Julian Burns and David Snodgrass look over other goals. - photo by Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Retreat reveals truck stop coming to Elgin I-20 exit

Upgrading the Kershaw County Courthouse and/or moving court and government offices -- with special emphasis on the county’s voter registration office -- into a single facility.

Bringing about a “Culture of Wellness” to Kershaw County.

Increasing county pay scales.

Focusing on the U.S. 1 corridors in east Camden and the West Wateree.

Getting citizens to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census.

Responding to news that a Love’s Travel Stop will be built on the Fort Jackson Road side of Elgin’s I-20 Exit 87 at White Pond Road.

Kershaw County Council spent the last two hours of its more than nine-hour planning retreat on Feb. 2 on these and other possible goals and objectives. The retreat also included a VisionKershaw 2030 update from council’s Citizen Core Group, a briefing by Kershaw County School District Superintendent Dr. Shane Robbins, briefings from various department heads, and a session on identifying major challenges facing the county.

The goals and objectives fell into six categories: facilities, programs and initiatives, staffing/personnel, planning, equipment/tools and “uncategorized.”

How to deal with the impact of Love’s Travel Stop’s plans to come to Exit 87 appeared to be of some urgency among those councilmen still attending the meeting at this stage of the retreat. Councilmen Tom Gardner and Jimmy Jones left earlier in the day. County Planner Michael Conley suggested that council needs to meet with the all the stakeholders involved in the Exit 87 area.

Council Chairman Julian Burns agreed.

“You need to be involved,” Burns said, as if speaking to area residents, business owners and others, “because it’s going to affect you.”

A few moments earlier, Councilman Ben Connell indicated that the area is already congested, even on Whiting Way, which acts as an access road connecting White Pond Road at Exit 87 with U.S. 601 at Lugoff Exit 92. KershawHealth’s Urgent Care Center is located in the Elgin Executive Park off Whiting Way and there are still plans for Ernst Health to build a rehabilitation center there.

When Councilman Al Bozard suggested that the main agency to talk to would be the S.C. Department of Transportation, Burns declared, “They’ll be in the room with us.”

According to its website, Love’s, headquartered in Oklahoma City, Okla., has more than 480 locations in 41 states. It provides “professional truck drivers and motorists with 24-hour access to clean and safe places to purchase gasoline, diesel fuel, compressed natural gas, travel items, electronics, snacks, restaurant offerings, and more.”

In a press release issued in mid-January, Love’s said it plans to open more than 40 new locations nationwide, but did not provide a list of proposed locations. Existing South Carolina locations -- some under the brand name Speedco -- include Blacksburg, Cayce, Dillon, Fair Play, Fort Mill, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, and Yemassee.

Roserock Holdings LLC, an Oklahoma limited liability company, which has purchased land for other Love’s Travel Stop locations, purchased 26.78 acres of land on the west side of White Pond Road immediately adjacent to Exit 87 for $1.15 million in December 2017.

At the end of the retreat, councilmen used colored stickers to indicate whether certain items were among their first, second, third or fourth choices to focus their efforts. Gardner and Jones were given an opportunity to “vote” on these priorities at a later time. Love’s impact on White Pond Road and the surrounding area was one of those they marked as a second-, if not first-tier priority.

Other items getting top rankings from council were improving or adding green spaces to east Camden, moving forward on the Wateree River park, leveraging the county’s military ties and veteran “friendliness,” and taking action on the county-wide fire services plan.

“My goal in my first term is to enhance and develop east Camden,” Councilman David Snodgrass, council’s newest member, said, referring to the need to create or upgrade green spaces in that part of the county.

Later, Snodgrass focused on a desire to develop the U.S. 1 corridor in east Camden.

“There are different options. We could do an overlay or create a TIF (tax increment funding) district,” Snodgrass said, pointing out that east Camden is one of the more densely populated unincorporated areas of the county. “It’s more than just roadways. Just from (S.C.) 34 (Bishopville Highway) to the airport, I’m talking development, zoning and (other) issues.”

Connell said the Lugoff-Elgin area along U.S. 1 needs attention as well, and council ultimately decided to split that objective into two parts, focusing on the U.S. 1 corridors from the Richland County line to Camden and in east Camden.

Council also decided to look at moving forward with Phase II of the Wateree River park property near the U.S. 1 bridge connecting Camden and Lugoff. County Administrator Vic Carpenter said Phase II would entail leveling field areas; installing drainage, grass and irrigation; completing the park’s trail and riverwalk system; installing signage; and adding amenities, possibly including benches, workout area, enhanced parking and upgraded convenience areas.

“The final stage (Phase III) would see enhancements such as full bathroom facilities, amphitheater, and possible additions to a riverwalk, such as fishing piers or observation decks,” Carpenter said.

Although they may not have scored as high, several other goals and objectives are likely to have a major impact depending on exactly what council decides to do about them. For example: the idea of at least upgrading the Kershaw County Courthouse, if not moving court and government offices into a one building.

One of the biggest issues the county is facing, according to Carpenter, is the fact that the 2020 presidential election is going to require additional space and security measures the Voter Registration Office currently does not have.

“We have a little over a year to figure (this) out,” Carpenter warned council members.

It was Burns who indicated the possibility of using an existing structure or building a new, single facility to house all government and court functions, referring to it as a “county seat” instead of a county courthouse or county government center. It appeared likely that a commission will be formed to study the issue.

In terms of wellness, healthcare and fitness, Burns said he wants to see a “culture of health” developed in Kershaw County. He listed off the school district, ALPHA Center, Community Medical Clinic, the Kershaw County Health Services District and others as needing to come together -- perhaps under a grant-funded effort -- to make this happen.

Connell asked how such a goal could be measured. Burns referred to VisionKershaw 2030.

Under “Health,” the vision document lists a goal that reads “Transform the Way Kershaw County Citizens Think and Act to Improve Healthy Outcomes.” Objectives include providing an environment that promotes a healthy life, sustaining a network of integrated and effective health and human services across the county, and connecting underserved and vulnerable communities to the resources that support their health and well-being. Strategies range from eliminating food “swamps” and “deserts” and ensuring access to primary healthcare to all citizens, to eliminating administrative barriers to healthcare without jeopardizing integrity or quality.

During this part of the retreat, council also focused on the possibility of raising county staff salaries. The discussion was not about percentages, but the entire pay scale itself.

“Other counties offer as much as 10 to 15 percent higher starting salaries than we do,” Carpenter said, adding that he wanted to “move salaries forward. The idea is to move them all up -- new employees and existing ones.”

Connell agreed, with a caveat.

“We need to be cognizant of the people paying for it,” he said, referring to taxpayers.

Carpenter said the entire region has gone up on its pay scales and indicated a need to “keep up” in order to attract and retain quality county employees. Burns pointed out that the Great Recession hit 10 years ago, indicating it was time to make this happen.

One thing that will definitely have an impact in the near future is the 2020 Census. Council’s discussion on this matter indicated it will be handled very differently than during the 2010 and earlier censuses.

“We need to take the lead, with the COG,” Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. said, referring to the Santee-Lynches Council of Governments, whose Kyle Kelly served as the retreat’s moderator.

Tucker said there will be an electronic component to the 2020 Census; Burns and Carpenter said the federal government may also be placing much of the burden on conducting the census onto local governments.

“Vic is talking with our staff and is also talking with Atlanta and Columbia,” Burns said.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Atlanta Region officer oversees census activities in seven states, including South Carolina.

“We need to organize the entire county,” Carpenter said.

Council agreed that a “complete count committee” should be formed and that the county may need to plan, fund and execute a variety of census activities. Burns and Carpenter noted that the census’ findings will be very important to the county on many fronts, impacting economics, education and political districts in the county.

Burns indicated there could be additional county council districts created in the county, especially in the West Wateree area.