BY MICHAELE DUKE
Continued effort to strengthen local government, community and the economy was the theme of the seventh annual State of the County Address presented February 2, by Williamsburg County Supervisor Stanley Pasley. Elected officials, private industries and citizens attended the meeting that took place in Williamsburg County Council Chamber at the public service building in Kingstree.
Supervisor Pasley spent about 40 minutes presenting accomplishments, proposals and what is yet to come for the citizens of Williamsburg County. Pasley began by pointing to fiscal stability and how local government has handled state and federal cuts over the past few years while maintaining an AAA credit rating. “All though we have not had our local government fund restored to pre-recession, we still have been able to provide services at a level comparable to what they were before the recession took place,” said Pasley. “And that’s a testimony to your council and the department heads and the hard work that we’ve collectively done together in order to make sure we get the most out of every tax dollar that we possibly have.” Pasley added they have solicited Representative Cezar McKnight and other members to work with the S.C. General Assembly to work with them to restore those dollars.
Pasley recognized the departments that provide services to the citizens, saying they have met 95 percent of the objectives set by the departments. “We’ve been able to improve our infrastructure, be more financially sound in providing county services, and our public transit system has advanced tremendously,” said Pasley. Public safety, which Pasley said comprises 34 percent of the budget, was a focal point of the address. “Public safety is a large concern because as we watch the news and read the newspaper, we are constantly being exposed to issues that impact our lives. So public safety is a major portion of county government.”
Pasley touted the presence of E-911 Emergency Management Division, which has been recognized as one of the finest in the state and the introduction to a code-red system that notifies citizens of emergency situations.
The county has also seen the addition of ambulances, brush trucks and several new fire stations located throughout the county. He added that they are working on EMS services for two rural fire stations.
Pasley said this year they would focus more on economic development opportunities in areas of small business development. “We’ve heard that cry loud and clear from our citizens, how can we develop more businesses,” said Pasley. “We know that at the national level small businesses create a significant amount of the jobs in the economic viability of not only our communities but communities across the country.” Pasley said they continue to address growth and development that creates jobs. “Not just jobs with minimum wage but we want to create quality jobs for our citizens,” said Pasley. In order to do that the county has been working closely with NESA and working to occupy vacant buildings such as Safe Auto and Firestone.
Pasley compared the 8.8 percent unemployment rate in 2013 to 7.8 percent in 2014. “That one-point drop has translated into a 12 percent increase in the number of jobs, which translates into approximately 600 additional jobs that has been added into the communities,” said Pasley.
To date, the county has secured $55 million in loans and low interest grants to put in place 200 miles of fresh water lines across the county. Pasley said because of this the county is now poised to take the system to another level but that will depend on the citizens signing up for the service. “Right now we have approximately 1,652 customers,” said Pasley. “In order to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime grant opportunity to provide service connections from the water lines to each individuals’ homes we have a grant opportunity to get his done, free of charge,” said Pasley. “Never has this been done in the history of USDA but they recognize how important it is.”
He said they need 1,400 more customers to sign up and urged citizens to pass the word. “What it does is creates an opportunity for us to continue to grow the system and create the kind of potential economic opportunities that we all are looking for.”
Quality of life indicators play a critical role in a company’s decision to locate in a particular area. Pasley said in order to attract and keep companies they are working with existing industry to address needs. He also pointed to the local hospital and its value to the community.
“If you’ve been watching the news, local hospitals are becoming an endangered species,” said Pasley who commended the administration for their efforts to expand services and program and create a medically superior environment that has been recognized nationally for patient safety. “We have to be very conscious of the jewel that we have within our community. Williamsburg Regional Hospital is not something we can afford to take for granted.” Pasley also touched on technological capabilities that include an updated website where the majority of citizen business can take place and a Facebook page.
In closing he said to continue to move the county forward takes teamwork. “The whole idea what we’ve been able to do is collaboration and being team players,” said Pasley. “There’s a saying that together, everyone achieves more. And that’s what team is all about.”
Council approved the purchase of four fire engines. Williamsburg County Fire Chief Randy Swinton presented information in regards to the purchase of the pre-owned fire engines. The vehicles will be purchased through a grant/loan combo. The 2001 engines have been inspected and come with a warranty.
A new fire engine can run upwards to $350,000. In addition, grants are being secured that will enable four substations to be built in the Turkey Creek; Highway 521 near Andrews; Longbranch Road in Greeleyville; and the Kennedyville area.
Swinton said the citizens would benefit because currently they are outside a five-mile radius of a fire station, which affects the ISO rating that in turn can affect insurance ratings. “We’re rated at an ISO rating of 5.9 but the insurance company rates them at a 10 because they live out of that five-mile radius,” said Swinton.