The State of Colleton: Officials share highlights of last year

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Colleton Chamber of Commerce hosted officials, administrators, leaders, business owners and advisors from Walterboro and Colleton County on Wednesday Feb. 8 for a briefing on the state of Colleton.
Each major entity of Colleton County and Walterboro provided information on the progress of their individual departments. Improvements in the area during the last year, as well as future endeavors, were conveyed by presenters.

PRTC
Dewey Ford of Palmetto Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC) said that progress had been made in increasing technology, offering new services and distributing fiber.
“We are working to increase wireless and high-speed internet throughout the county. Right now, 85% of Colleton has fiber technology, and by 2023, the entire county will be covered,” said Ford. “PRTC is also happy to provide home security automation services at this time.”

City of Walterboro
Mayor Bill Young gave an update on the city of Walterboro, first remarking on receiving the Governmental Finance Officers Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.
Young went on to address improvements made in the last year: the Wildlife Center and amphitheater, fountain, new sidewalks and landscaping, lighting, decorative mast arms, and completed work on the I-95 business loop from South Jefferies to Benson Street.
“All of these have worked together to bring encourage travelers on I-95 to come into our business areas which is reflected in business development, expansion and accommodations and hospitality tax receipts that are reinvested in our community,” said Young.
The mayor also related plans for the future of the city, which include completing the business loop project from Jefferies Boulevard to the Bells Highway intersection going north to exit 57 by adding attractive signage and landscaping.
An additional project is the Ireland Creek Master Plan. The city has plans transform Ireland Creek between the bridges on West Washington Street and North Jefferies Boulevard into a green space for residents. Equipment has been acquired to make the changes.
“The idea is to make it an amenity resembling a park that would be a very nice gateway to the sanctuary,” said City Manager Jeff Molinari.
Mayor Young also said he was encouraged by new retail businesses coming into the city and by the work of the City Appearance Board in beautifying the area by cleaning up litter.
Upgrades were recently made to the wastewater treatment facility and plans made for an expansion which should meet Walterboro’s needs for the next 20-30 years.
“Part of the need to increase capacity is to be able to handle increased retail and residential development as well as new industrial development,” Young said.
In addition to increasing the treatment plant, the city is adding a new well to the water distribution system, located at the Mable T. Willis site. The well will be completed by July and will mainly be funded by a grant from the Rural Infrastructure Authority. More water is needed to satisfy demands of exit 53 interchange area, the rest area on I-95, Dogwood Hills, Hendersonville Elementary School and, if needed, more water for Walterboro.
Grants will also be funding a waterline installation project that will cover several streets east of the city limits, and the Brownfields assessment program, which identifies underutilized properties that might be contaminated and removes them.
Also, the Greenway Trailhead, eventually leading from Green Pond to Walterboro, is progressing and work is ongoing.
Young expressed gratification that plans are underway to construct much needed hangars at the airport, and that marketing Walterboro as the Front Porch of the Lowcountry has paid dividends in attracting visitors to the area. He also remarked that First Thursday has been an outstanding success.
He congratulated law enforcement on the great job they were doing in the community by building relationships.

Edisto Beach
Crawford Moore, mayor pro tem of Edisto Beach, attended with Mayor Jane Darby, expressing his thanks to the people of Colleton County for their assistance during and after Hurricane Dorian.
“Your people are top notch,” said Moore, nodding to Mayor Young and City Councilman Chair Steven Murdaugh. “We could not have endured without the assistance and support of Colleton people, especially in storm cleanup and garbage pickup,” he added.
Moore went on to explain new features on Edisto:
 Work is being done to ensure the survival of loggerhead turtle nests with the placement of turtle-friendly lights through grant funding.
 Grants have provided upgrades to the Recreation Master Plan: bike trails, walking trails, park enhancement, etc.
 The ladder fire truck’s rebuilding and refurbishing was more financially feasible than purchasing a new one and was recently completed.
 Impact from Dorian was $750,000. Officials are working with FEMA to receive reimbursements.
 The most important addition to Edisto is the new reverse osmosis water treatment facility that will remove the salty flavor from tap water. It should be ready for use by the first of March.
 Upgrading of the convenience station was completed along with new signage.
 The fire station was redesigned to include spaces for female firefighters.
 Persistent flooding has been a problem. Officials are consulting with firms to address this problem. Dune replacement and enhancement funded by federal government for $22 million is being negotiated.
 Town Hall is going to be upgraded and remodeled for the first time since 1985. Money has been budgeted, but an application will be made to request one-cent sales tax from Colleton.
 Edisto residents are watching several bills coming before legislation: Senate Bill 217, Flexible Tourism Tax Use; House Bill 4431, Business License Tax Reform Act; House Bill 4147, First Responder Legislation; Senate Bill 0007, Tort Reform Bill.

Colleton County
County Council Chairman Steve Murdaugh reported a 2.3% growth in Colleton County last year with a $180 million tax base. There was also growth in property values and per capita income. “Per capita income of $35,000 is lower than the state average of $42,000, but it is increasing,” said Murdaugh. “Our unemployment rate is down, and home ownership at 75% is up, higher than the state’s average of 70%.
“We are finally rebounding from the effects of economic losses from a few years ago, and we are seeing revenue benefits from new investments and businesses in the community,” added Murdaugh. This allowed the county to have a strong bond rating with Moody’s Investor Services and Poor’s Rating Services.
He went on to say that the county received the Government Finance Officers Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting which is awarded to only 18% of county governments across the US.
Projects completed by the county last year were:
 Airport terminal expansion at $1,690,000.
 Parcel C water and sewer at the airport.
 Additions to the Recreation Center: new gym, fitness center, splash pad
 ACE Basin Sports complex upgrading.
Future endeavors include:
 A renovated Taxpayer Service Center at the Harrelson Building for under $2 million. This will increase security, allow for new offices and better parking. This is scheduled to be completed by 2021.
 Venture Park’s water and sewer additions are in the design phase. The county has acquired RIA and EDA funds to offset expenditures.
 A new Cheehaw River pier is in the planning stage and permits are being obtained.
 The old Bulldog football stadium is being demolished to create a green recreation area for residents. This should be completed by the summer.
 Colleton County Fire-Rescue will soon begin carrying whole blood for traumatic injuries. Colleton is only one of five departments implementing this service in the U.S.
 Fire-Rescue and Risk Management worked together to promote the “Stop the Bleed” program which trains employees in first aid and active shooter emergencies.
 The following fire stations are currently being designed or constructed: Smoaks 7, Islandton 15, Mt. Carmel 26, Bells 18, and Risher Mountain exit 62 and station 33 training facility.
 The Museum and Farmer’s Market had 26,000 visitors and 34 events. The kitchen was booked for 2,366 hours for new business starts, and 3,000 meals were prepared in the summer.
 The Civic Center was busy and will be even busier this year. The Charleston Jazz Orchestra will be returning.

 Dogwood Hills Golf Course is doing well.
 Colleton County Memorial Library had 100,000 visitors last year, and a new branch opened in Cottageville.
 With thanks to Heyward Horton, the latest economic development projects are as follows: Colonial Precast Concrete with $2.5 million investment and 55 jobs; Charleston Composites with $4 million investment and 27 jobs; and Wayne Brothers with $7 million investment and 75 jobs.
 A grant was received for improvements to lot three at the Commerce Park.
 The Salkehatchie Railroad (formerly Hampton & Branchville) is a 40-mile industrial grade rail spur managed by Palmetto Railways that connects CSX to Hampton County. This has opened a prospective industrial site near Canadys, a 467-acre site near I-95’s exit 62 and a mega-site with 870 acres near I-95’s exit 57.
 Workforce development is improving with Thunderbolt Career and Technology Center and the Career Skills Center for adults.

USC Salk
Dean Chris Nesmith, of Colleton’s USC Salkehatchie campus, gave facts regarding higher education:
 In South Carolina, those with college degrees make 40% higher salaries than those who do not. Over a lifetime, they will make approximately $1 million more than those without college degrees.
 The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 64% of U.S. jobs will require associate’s degrees or higher.
 The national average of people with bachelor’s degrees is 30.3%. In South Carolina the average is 26.5%. In Colleton County the average is 15.3%.
 USC Salk has a diverse nursing program with a high-fidelity simulation lab where students can diagnose a variety of ailments on “dummy” patients.
 The elementary and early childhood education program is doing well and future teachers are being prepared to go into the classroom.
 Industrial process engineering programs are in high demand throughout the U.S. and Salk offers these courses.
 Almost 900 students attend Colleton and Allendale Salk campuses. Online classes are also available and offer a wide variety of courses.
 Salk students give back to the community by reading to children, visiting the Veterans Victory House, leading programs, assisting at the animal shelter, and helping with Special Olympics.
Future programs and plans include:
 Bakari Sellers, the youngest member of the state legislature, 2014 Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor and political commentator on CNN, will be at Walterboro Salk on February 26 in room 111 from 12:15-1 p.m. in honor of Black History Month.
 Plans are underway to renovate facilities to include a dance/yoga studio, weight room, offices, and classrooms.

Southern Carolina Alliance
Kay Maxwell spoke on behalf of Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance, thanking local workers Brantley Strickland and Sandy Steel for their assistance.
In reviewing 2019, Maxwell offered the following information:
 The alliance met with 317 companies last year from around the world in an effort to bring industry to Colleton.
 Colonial Precast Concrete brought in $2.5 million and 27 jobs. Mayzo industries brought an undisclosed amount and 20 jobs.
 In 2020, Stoneworks will bring $3.2 million and 21 jobs. Wayne Brothers will bring $7 million and 75 jobs.
 Marketing staff will promote new projects, offer an online library of Colleton properties available to industry, offer research demographic tools for industries and make complimentary software for projects available at no cost. They will also make a website available, create flyers, provide drones, create property videos, sponsor a YouTube channel, and market on all social media.

Colleton County
School District
Assistant superintendents Jessica Williams and Cliff Warren gave a brief update of the school system. Although students scored average and below in test scores, graduating seniors accounted for $6.8 million in scholarships.
“We are working very hard to decrease the dropout rate, and increase the graduation rate. We are also striving to increase test scores in all areas of academics,” said Williams.
The district is in the process of searching for an interim superintendent and ways to address the teacher shortage.
Facts about the school system include:
 Nine schools covering 1,133 square miles.
 The student population is 5,695 with 860 employees.
 There are 261 teachers with master’s degrees or higher, and the average teacher salary is $45,722.
 The general budget is $44,642,661 with a cost of $9,881 per student.
 The district received a clean audit for 2019.
 The average Colleton student ACT score was 15.9, while the average SAT score was 922.
 Last year’s graduation rate was 78.4%.
 Students receiving special education services was 17%.
 Average daily attendance was 89.8%, and the dropout rate was 2.8%.
 A K-12 project-based learning is in the works.
 Technology was increased for grades 1-8.
 Cottageville Elementary won the bronze award for National Healthy Schools.
 A partnership was begun with MUSC for telehealth and telemental health programs.
 Upgraded transportation services were adopted.
 An ongoing partnership with Teach Across America encourages teachers to join the district.
 A partnership with AmeriCorps offers college and career coaches.
 Partnering with USC allows students to work on college credit while in high school.
Future district plans include:
 Implementation of a new five-year strategic plan beginning in 2021.
 Professional learning communities to assist teachers in sharing teaching practices will be utilized.
 Plans are being made to enhance student achievement.
 Safety concerns will be addressed.

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