Mayor’s state of the city report for 2015 | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | January 28, 2016 5:00 pm
Last Updated: January 31, 2016 at 10:22 pm
Walterboro City Council’s first meeting of 2016 gave Mayor Bill Young the opportunity to assess the city’s advances last year and what looms on the horizon in the new year.
“Over the last several years, we have seen projects that have changed the appearance of our city,” Young said. “The renovation of our parks, the downtown arborscape and the landscaping out by the interstate interchanges have been significant improvements.”
They are improvements, he added, that have been noticed by others from outside the community. “One travel writer called our interstate interchanges the one bright spot on I-95 in South Carolina.”
Young said the city will continue that work in the new year, primarily focusing on the I-95 business loop project.
The loop project, the ambitious plan to improve the appearance of the community on the major roads that loop through the city from Exit 53 to Exit 57, has already started with improvements on a small stretch of South Jefferies Boulevard.
When that phase is finished, the work will move on to South Jefferies Boulevard at the intersections of Washington and Benson Streets.
“Construction documents are being drawn for the rest of the project approved in the Capital Projects Sales Tax referendum,” Young said. The sales tax money will fuel the improvements on Sniders Highway and Jefferies Boulevard between the Exit 53 interchange of I-95 and the intersection of Jefferies Boulevard and Bells Highway.
“We will need the cooperation of citizens and businesses as we improve and beatify the roadways near their properties and transform the appearance of our city,” the mayor said.
Future plans will extend the loop from Jefferies Boulevard down Bells Highway to Exit 57.
In February, DOT will finally begin work on the Mount Carmel-Bells Highway intersection. The improvements being made there will incorporate some aspects of the Loop project.
Once that portion of the loop project gets underway, the city will begin work to secure the funding necessary to undertake the improvements on Bells Highway from Jefferies Boulevard to the Exit 57 interchange with one notable exception.
“In February, South Carolina DOT will finally begin work on the Mount Carmel-Bells Highway intersection. The improvements being made there will incorporate some aspects of the loop project,” he pointed out.
The loop project is not the only area where the city will see improvement.
“We are continuing our work in the North Lemacks Street area. A walking trail will be installed around the Gruber Street Park, decorative lighting and security cameras will be installed and overgrown brush will be removed,” the mayor said.
The work to improve the North Lemacks Street neighborhood has been part of a three-year program underwritten by Community Development Block grants. This year will also see the grant money being employed to undertake exterior improvements to some of the homes in the North Lemacks Street neighborhood.
“We are in the planning stages for the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary Discovery Center, which will be located in the old Glover Motors building,” the mayor said.
The planning for the proposed facility at the intersection of Jefferies Boulevard and Hampton Street might also contain a facet that will enhance the entertainment facet of life in Walterboro.
“We are also looking at the possibility of constructing an amphitheater on the property to be used for public performances: movies under the moonlight in the summer, Rice Festival performances, Discovery Center demonstrations and a variety of other things,” the mayor reported.
Young said that the sanctuary’s advisory committee “is working hard with city council to make the Discovery Center and amphitheater a reality.”
2016 should also see the city government address its need for more space.
“The city has purchased the former First Federal Bank Building (on Hampton Street), enlarging our campus and giving us much needed additional space and utilizing what might otherwise have been an unoccupied property,” the mayor said.
The vacant bank building would become home to the city’s finance department, court administration, permitting and business licenses operations. “Visitors will also have the ability to make drive-in payments to the water department at this location,” Young added. The design work for renovating the building is underway.
Another city improvement project slated for 2016 won’t be as visible.
The city recently received a $500,000 Rural Infrastructure grant and a $2.04 million EDA grant for improvements to the wastewater treatment plant.
“The upgrading of the plant is vital for economic development,” Young said.
The city cooperates with the county in providing soil-ready sites for prospective industries, the mayor explained. The city provides infrastructure in the form of water, sewer and wastewater treatment.
“County Council, the county administrator and Heyward Horton are all working hard and having continued success in recruiting business and industry,” Young said. “Industries are coming to Walterboro and Colleton County from all over the world. Other enterprises, including Palmetto Aero, are locating at our airport.”
Young also expects 2016 to be a year of improvement for the Lowcountry Regional Airport, which is jointly owned by the city and county.
“The airport terminal expansion design is underway and when competed, we will have a unique and outstanding facility to go along with the largest general aviation airport in South Carolina,” Young said.
As the city prepared to enter the new year, officials had to temporarily suspend its pilot recycling program when the company that handled the city’s recyclables decided to no longer accept it.
“The single-stream recycling program is important and we will continue to look for a contractor to receive our recyclables so that we can get that program up and running again,” Young said.
Taking a look at crime in the city, Young reported “Our crime statistics for 2015 show that we are making headway. Violent crimes were less than half what they were in 2010 and property crimes were down substantially.”
“Even though we are making progress in this area, we know that keeping our citizens safe is a responsibly that we must meet every day,” the mayor advised.
Young reported the city “is in excellent shape and moving forward. City council is working well together and, with our city manager and city staff, we make a good team.”
He also said the city is in sound financial shape. “We received an unqualified opinion from Baird and Company at our last meeting (and it is worth noting that we do a comprehensive annual financial report, a CAFR) and we received a certificate of excellence in financial reporting for the last three years.
“Most of the things I have said tonight have been widely publicized, but I wanted to recap some of our progress as we begin a new year,” the mayor said. “City council will establish new goals and set priorities for this year at our annual retreat.
“I want to thank our city council members, city manager, our department heads and all of our city employees who do such an outstanding job serving the citizens of Walterboro,” Young said.
“I also want to thank all those who volunteer in so many ways to make Walterboro a better place, from those who serve on boards and commissions to those who volunteer at our many special events. You have our sincere thanks and are greatly appreciated,” he added.