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Bamberg County defines company's broadband expansion footprint more specifically; working to hire animal control officer

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Bamberg County

Bamberg County’s new logo, developed by Alison South Marketing Group of Aiken.

BAMBERG - The Bamberg County Council received an update on the progress a Walterboro-based telecommunications cooperative is making to expand broadband service in the county with the help of a grant from the state’s Broadband Infrastructure Program.

County Administrator Joey Preston reported during a Dec. 6 council meeting that Phase 1 of the work Palmetto Rural Telephone Co-Op is doing consists of Hadwin Road, Orange Grove Road and the Clear Pond area.

Preston said work in the Hadwin Road area was slated to complete in February 2022, with work in the Clear Pond area to be complete March 1, 2022. Work on Orange Grove Road is due to be complete in April 1, 2022.

"Hadwin has 103 homes, Clear Pond has 187 homes and Orange Grove has 151 homes," Preston said.

Phase 2 consists of the Lodge community, where work is to be complete June 1, 2022, and Pocketville Road, where work is scheduled to be complete July 1, 2022. Work on Ashton Road and Rivers Bridge Road is due to be complete by July 1, 2022 and October 2022, respectively. Work in Ehrhardt was slated to be complete in mid-October 2022.

Lodge has 80 homes and Pocketville Road has 106 homes in the service area, while Ashton Road has 106 homes and Rivers Bridge Road has 66 dwellings. Ehrhardt has 379 homes.

"They're moving pretty fast out there, and they're getting the job done in that part of the county. We continue to move forward with working with the state to try to get ... broadband throughout the rest of the county. You'll be hearing more about that hopefully the first quarter of next year," Preston said.

Individuals can contact the PRTC website at prtc.us to learn more about services and pricing, or call directly at 843-538-2020.

In other business, SouthernCarolina Alliance Project Manager Garrett Dragano gave a reported, stating that there are currently 17 active projects in the county.

The economic development group serves Bamberg, Allendale, Barnwell, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.

Dragano said the Bamberg County's two announcements this year have included South Carolina Oak to Barrel LLC with a $6.8 million capital investment and create 122 new jobs, and Arnett Engineered Solutions LLC, with a $2.5 million capital investment and 19 jobs.

"I'm continuing to work with the barrel company. I'm working on getting them their training and working with ReadySC to work on recruiting and hiring. They did have a minor setback. Some of the equipment that was there that was left over from the previous owner is not supposed to sit. So some of it had to have some major repairs and replacements ... but they're still moving along," Dragano said.

He said the barrel company should be operational early next year in January.

As far SCA regional accomplishments, he said, "We have 124 active projects. We've had 18 announcements in 2021 so far, with $121 million in capital investment, creating 615 jobs."

One of three promising industrial projects is located in Bamberg County, with the others in Allendale and Barnwell counties, he said.

Dragano continued, "We're continuing to work on improving infrastructure at the Wolf industrial site that's located over in Denmark. SCA was awarded a grant to fund a Palmetto Pride litter coordinator. You can find more information for that on our website and the posting for that."

Administrator's report 

Preston gave a COVID-19 report, stating that 58.3 percent of residents have had at least one vaccine, with 52 percent have had their second dose. The percentages reflect all citizens age 5 and over, who are all now eligible for the vaccine.

"Children ages 5 to 11 are now eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Booster shots are also permitted and recommended for those 18 and older who were vaccinated over six months ago with Pfizer or Moderna, or over two months with the J&J vaccine," he said.

Preston also read an emailed comment from county resident Kenneth Ahlin, stating his displeasure with individuals not being able to render public comment in person rather than having to email their comments which are reviewed by county council.

“The requirement of having to email before noon on the day of the meeting is an inconvenience for those that work. It also suppresses communication from those who do not have access to email, or those who are not inclined to use it,” Ahlin wrote.

“Why do comments have to be reviewed? There’s no logical reason to support this. Please consider getting rid of any barrier that restricts our verbal communication with our elected officials,” he continued.

County resident Miriam Beard, who was present at the meeting, said she had wanted to be able to sign in to comment at the meeting.

Chairman Larry Haynes said, “We don’t sign-in sheets for comments since COVID. We passed an ordinance. You got to mail it in.”

Councilwoman Sharon Hammond said, “We’re in here now.”

Councilman Phil Myers said, “I think we need to do away with that,” with Hammond agreeing and saying it didn't make sense. 

Beard was allowed to speak, stating that she was still concerned about animal control.

“We need a new pound area. It needs to be updated. You need an animal control officer full time so that they can go around and give whatever tickets or things for people who are breaking the law and not controlling their animals,” Beard said.

Councilman Myers said, “I think we do need to look into that. I’ve had complaints about that, too, in various areas. Some areas are worse than others."

Preston later said, “The sheriff has always been responsible for animal control in the county. The cities are responsible for their own. The sheriff wants to turn it over to county. I am going to hire a full-time officer dedicated to this.”

County Sheriff Kenneth Bamberg said the new officer would not be “attached to the sheriff’s office.”

“We have been doing the animal control duties for the county as far as going to pick up the strays. Because of the fact that animal control duties should not be under the sheriff’s office, we talked about that, and the administration of the county is in the process of trying to find an animal control officer to take care of the animal control problem here in the county,” Bamberg said.

Finance 

County Treasurer Alice Johnson gave the October financial report, stating the county had $1,036,066.77 in income and expenditures of $1,067,016.72, leaving a negative balance of $30,949.95. When the negative bank balance at the end of September ($146,702.82) was added, the county’s regular account stood at a negative $177,652.77.

Councilman Clint Carter asked Johnson about what individuals can do who are disputing the amount of their property tax bills, as was the case with one taxpayer he knew of.

Johnson said individuals are urged to call the county auditor, assessor or treasurer's office if they notice any changes in their tax bills they may have a question about.

"It just pays everybody to check their bills because if there's a big difference, call any of those three offices. If we don't know, the person answering the phone knows who to send them to to try to get the answer," Johnson said.

County Controller Gina Smith later explained that Johnson’s finance report was just the cash balance for one of the county’s many bank accounts.

"This is not an unusual situation to have negative balances in that regular account for the first six months of the year. In fact, every year since year 2015, we have had negative balances reported as the book balance," she said.

Smith has said the county is not short on cash because the other bank accounts have money in them, including the $67,070 in its property tax rollback account as of the end of October.

"There are checks written against that regular account and all of the accounts that are outstanding, meaning they haven't cleared the bank. We talked a little bit last month about the fact that we hold these checks and don't mail them all out when they're cut. Based on cash flow and the availability of funds, we mail the ones that we need to, and then we hold back," she said.

Smith continued, "Alice is giving you a list of all those outstanding checks in her report. So if you have some time, you might want to check that out.... Naturally, if you've got $1.4 million in the bank, you're not going to mail out $1.6 million worth of checks. If you do, they'll bounce, and we definitely will not allow that to happen."

"I just want you to just sort of understand the dynamics of that. Even though on the books it's showing a negative balance, it is not a negative balance at South State Bank or any other bank" she said.

County Finance Director T.M. Thomas reported that the county’s general fund had year-to-date revenues as of the end of October of $1,297,260, with expenses coming in at $2,532,385, for a negative general fund balance of $1,235,125.

Smith has said that despite a negative balance in the general fund, the county will have a fund balance on hand because the bulk of the county's revenue is taxes, which largely come in during December and January.

 

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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