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.
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.
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.
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.