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BAMBERG -- Bamberg County is starting to feel the pinch of the federal government shutdown and wants its legislative representatives to know it.

Those concerns were expressed at Monday night's Bamberg County Council meeting.

Council Chairman Trent Kinard has written letters to lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, about the impact of the shutdown, which he advised them is "causing financial hardships on Bamberg County."

For example, the county applied for and received three new fire trucks through a federal grant/loan package from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which were to be delivered in March. Now, the county can't get that money, Kinard said.

In his letter, he wrote that "other applications through the USDA are to finance a new fire station and provide crucial health and safety upgrades to our county courthouse," but have come to a standstill under the ongoing shutdown.

"I'm sure you are aware of the difficulties this creates for our impoverished county and its budget, which is already considerably overwhelmed by other shortfalls and mandates at the state level," Kinard wrote the lawmakers, urging that "every effort" be made to end the shutdown.

County Administrator Joey Preston on Tuesday said, "We deal with the USDA, and the USDA has pretty much closed up shop. There's no one there to work with us or take our calls, process our loan applications, our grant. We got three fire trucks approved through them. We got three grants and a loan for the fire trucks.

"We can't get our money, and then we're waiting on approval for the fire department down right outside of Ehrhardt. Of course, they're not able to keep that moving, and then I can't submit the application for the courthouse (upgrades). So the government shutdown is affecting us there."

Preston added, "We wanted to notify our senators and House members formally to let them know how this is ridiculous now. They need to get the government back up and running again."

Also during the meeting, county Probate Judge Sarah Guess Noel swore in recently re-elected Council members Sharon Hammond, District 1; Larry Haynes, District 3 and Evert Comer Jr., District 6.

Council followed up the swearing-in by recognizing Rev. Isaiah Odom for his 40 years of service as a council member.

Also, Kinard was unanimously voted in as council chairman, and Hammond was elected council vice-chairperson.

In other business, Preston reported the county received another $300,000 grant from the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission for continued upgrades at the Bamberg County Airport.

Council members also heard from Bamberg County First Steps Executive Director Pauletta Plowden, who said the First Steps Children and Parents Sharing (CAPS) Program has been endorsed by the Parents as Teachers National Center as a Blue Ribbon affiliate.

The designation recognizes the program as one of the top performing home visiting affiliates within the international Parents and Teachers program network, she said.

"Sometimes parents don't need a handout but a hand up, and so we try to focus on those things. We ensure a variety of resources to assist their efforts outside of our basic two home visits a month," Plowden said.

Council also heard a presentation from Denmark Technical College President Dr. Christopher J. Hall, who said he was thankful for the funds that were provided to the college with the addition of one mill to the county's fiscal year 2019 budget.

"It's the first time in the history that any of the counties we serve have done that. So, for me, it was groundbreaking and it shows how committed they are to supporting the college," Hall said in an interview Tuesday.

Preston on Tuesday said that the amount of one mill totals "somewhere between $26,000 and $27,000" and that part of the requirements to receive the funds is that Denmark Tech can only use them for its physical plant and property.

"They've complied with everything. And then what we do is allocate to them the amount of the mill that we've collected to date ... . They'll be getting quarterly payments," the administrator said.

Hall also reported on the college's upcoming homecoming to be held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1-3. A Career Day and the Presidential Scholarship Gala, which raised approximately $35,000 last year, will be among Friday's activities, with an annual parade and two basketball games set for Saturday.

The Denmark Tech president said the college has also engaged a consultant to help craft a new strategic plan and wanted the council to be included as part of the process. 

"The college has a strategic plan that was created back in 2015 and was supposed to go through 2020. But I believe that the college situation has changed and we need a new strategic plan to really look at where we are and where we want to go," Hall said, noting that the college had approximately 50 dual-enrollment students from area high schools last semester.

Dual enrollment is a program allowing high school students to take college courses and receive credit for doing so.

"Denmark Tech was also selected for the ManuFirst SC grant. In partnership with the Department of Commerce, several technical colleges from around the state were awarded this grant ... to train individuals in Lean Manufacturing ... at no cost to the students," Hall said. Classes are set to begin on Jan. 15. 

Lean Manufacturing is a systematic method for waste minimization within a manufacturing system without sacrificing productivity.

Also during the meeting, the council:

  • Heard a report from SouthernCarolina Alliance Senior Project Manager Darrell P. Booker that the nine projects are currently actively considering locating in Bamberg County, with the county receiving a total of 10 site visits last year.
  • Reappointed to the Thoroughbred Country Tourism Advisory Committee: Jerry Halmon, with his term expiring January 2022, and Rena Riddle, with her term expiring January 2023.
  • Heard Bamberg County Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Bell report on upcoming events, including the RURAL STRONG Business Resource Expo for small business owners and farmers, which will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon Thursday, Jan. 17, in Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College's Roquemore Auditorium.

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

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Staff Writer

Dionne Gleaton has been a staff writer with The T&D for 20 years. She has been an education reporter, regional reporter and currently writes features with an emphasis on health.

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