It is the first duty of a nation and of a state, and no less so of this county, to provide for the safety and well-being of its citizens.
Of utmost importance is always the safety of the population. There are some things only elected bodies can do and that is one of them, including police, sheriff, SROs, ambulance, Emergency 911, detention of persons charged, and justice systems.
The time has arrived, with all due gravity, to address fire services. The studies and deliberations … long in the public eye, and detailed … yielded a fine plan for fire services which culminated three long years of study.
With the Camden and Lugoff fire departments well-resourced already, council voted to provision our wonderful, but at-risk, county volunteer fire personnel, and to improve on their compensation, manning and equipping. New funds were needed; after 20 years of under-funding, it was far far more than simply borrowing from one underfunded account to fund another. Because of the strait-jacket of state laws, money for fire must be set aside only in fire accounts -- and for that we had to raise taxes.
It is misleading and a myth that fire services can fixed by a referendum or borrowing from other accounts. There was no simple solution. Yet, with these new funds, and our amazing volunteer firemen, a solution is underway.
Long in debate, more than 900 Kershaw County citizens spoke, and county council responded decisively. Council did the tough work of government and built a budget that was founded on the wishes of the people. Yes, more than 900 of you gave voice in the annual survey concerning VisionKershaw 2030.
The business of the council is the business of the people, and that great work was fully reflected in this recent budget. An old-fashioned, bedrock American motivation fueled the outcome: that we are stronger when we act together. Such respect for the will of the people assured focus -- focus on what the people need, with a due regard for the precious resources entrusted to council, and then team work among council and our citizens, which nurtured a culture of critical self-examination and continual improvement.
The people voiced concern not only for safety and security, but also for many other competing priorities, some of which, for lack of resources, went unfunded. Nevertheless, County Administrator Vic Carpenter and his staff delivered a fine budget that materially advances KershawVision 2030. Along with your 900 voices (and 250 pages of comments!), council began in February with multiple open working sessions and closed with public hearings last week in a process of continual refinement. It was democracy in action.
Thanks to your candid feedback -- the good and the not so good -- your council listened and responded with equal passion. Much got done, but other priorities were set aside for later ... the hard work of setting priorities in a democratic process, and ways found to lessen the funds needed at substantially lower costs than per capita costs in the Lugoff and Camden fire districts.
The new fiscal year’s budget process was dynamic, no holds barred. Yet, the benefit to the people was greater than the sum of the parts. Look at what has been achieved: new schools last year and improvements to the existing ones this year; improvements to our economic industrial sites, with a new spec building, robust employment; expanded EMS, new parks and preparations for the 250th anniversary of the Revolutionary War in full cooperation with the city of Camden; county services at peak levels in roads, waste and sewer; Sheriff services; SROs for the schools; and full funding for Central Carolina Technical College for our work force.
So where do we go now? The following are clear priorities in the coming year:
• Execution. Vigilance and professionalism in doing the work agreed upon. Agility in adapting to new opportunities.
• Visioning. As is said, if you don’t care where you are going, any road will get you there. So, the wonderful citizens’ VisionKershaw 2030 remains a baseline. We will measure ourselves in that fashion.
• Economic Development. We must continue to be proactive in our strategies, in this challenging global market, to attract and sustain new business here. Clearly, a trained and ready workforce is key. Yet, we need to look at our infrastructure, available inventory of buildings, and our site preparation -- and, then, where to place money for best effect.
• Provision for Quality of Life. We see neighborhood and citizens groups clamoring -- (80 percent on the recent survey!) -- for parks, and trails and recreation choices for us all. Witness the Wateree River park; and the citizens’ private-public partnership to advocate and to build walking, hiking, biking, running, and water trails all over Kershaw County. To you enthusiasts out there, get on board. It is a great day in Kershaw County!
• A Community Health Improvement Plan. Focus on wellness, mental health, fitness, accessible medical care, and in eating and recreation habits. We are aiming for a “culture of wellness.”
So, much to do and more than this article can convey. But the real exclamation point is the new energy in the county -- folks are more engaged than ever. The vital news is the support of the county for VisionKershaw 2030. There is real energy in our population -- citizens stepping up to provide solutions. This is affirmation that government is not the only or even the best solution to everything, but the servant to the will of an engaged and committed populace.
(Guest columnist Julian Burns is the chairman of Kershaw County Council.)