Council considers needs list

Housing rehabilitation, upgraded water and sewer services and improved transportation corridors are just some of the top priorities county officials are considering for this year’s annual county needs list.

Lancaster County Council discussed the list Monday night, Feb. 10, during a needs assessment public hearing, part of a joint process between the county and the Catawba Regional Council of Governments.

Offering assistance during the meeting was COG’s community development director Grazier Rhea, who discussed possible community needs and highlighted potential grant applications.

Each year, Rhea compiles the information for COG, which uses the list to identify needs that are eligible for Community Development Block Grants. The CDBG program, run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides annual grants to areas with residents who have low to moderate income.

Rhea told council possible projects this year could include an Erwin Farm sewer project or a Midway area renaissance project, though there are several items on council’s needs list.

Other projects include constructing new EMS and fire stations where needed, improving transportation between the county’s municipalities, and adding turn lanes at the Andrew Jackson and Buford schools.

She walked council through several competitive CDBG grant programs the county could apply for. This includes a community infrastructure program, which can only be applied to water, sewer, roads or drainage projects, which this year has $7.7 million available this year. Rhea said there is a grant maximum of $750,000 that counties can apply for in this category.

Councilwoman Charlene McGriff asked Rhea if Lancaster County has any projects that would cost close to that maximum amount.

“No, all of your projects are for lower amounts,” Rhea said.

Other categories the county can apply for include: a community enrichment program, to be used for streetscape projects or workforce development initiatives, with an available fund balance of $1.8 million; a neighborhood revitalization program, which has been used to upgrade portions of the Brooklyn Avenue area, with an available fund balance of $6 million; and a “Ready to Go” public facilities program, to be used for urgent public needs, with an available fund balance of $600,000.

The latter projects, she said, must be ready to bid within 60 days of the grant award.

Several council members, including McGriff and Larry Honeycutt, asked if any of these grants could be used to fund improvements to Lancaster’s library.

“It’s in the heart of District 2, so I think we could justify it,” McGriff said.

County Administrator Steve Willis reminded council that it’s not only the library’s location, but its service area, that will be taken into consideration.

“In this case, we’re not looking just at the city of Lancaster, but areas such as Buford that it services,” Willis said.

Rhea told council she would examine which grant category could be applied for upgraded library facilities.

“You’ve had this on your list for awhile,” she said. “But it will be hard to determine because libraries don’t ask people for their income information.”

She reminded council that if a grant could be used, it would not be for a new library, but could be used for projects such as new computers to assist with job training.

“It could be for an expansion maybe, but they probably won’t fund a whole new library,” she said.

Rhea also mentioned the business development program available through the CDBG process, which would allocate funds to be used for infrastructure for new or expanding businesses in the county.

“Remember that 51 percent of the jobs have to be available to low or moderate income people,” she told council.

Funds available in this category are $2 million, she said.

Before ending the hearing, Rhea opened the discussion up to the public, asking for any community needs from the audience.

Lancaster County Emergency Management Director Morris Russell quickly approached the podium to offer one suggestion.

He asked if council could consider adding sidewalks for the Foxwood area in Kershaw.

“Folks are just trying to get back and forth and I’m scared someone is going to get killed. There are a lot of people in that road,” Russell said. “I know it’s low-income housing at Foxwood and we just need to get a sidewalk. I see full families walking in the road there.”

Rhea said sidewalks need to be part of a larger project and aren’t considered on their own.

“But there’s no reason not to put this on your list,” Rhea said.

Council took no action Monday, though the updated list will be up for adoption during council’s Feb. 24 meeting.

About the CDBG program

According to the S.C. Department of Commerce website, the state’s CDBG program provides assistance to local governments to improve economic opportunities and community revitalization projects for low to moderate income residents.

The program, which has been funded through the state since 1982 by HUD, focuses on projects that involve neighborhood improvements, public infrastructure and the local economy.

Past CDBG projects in Lancaster County have included water line upgrades in the Westwood community, housing initiatives with the county’s Habitat for Humanity and various housing rehabilitation work in Lancaster’s Brooklyn neighborhood.

By Christopher Sardelli, Staff Reporter with The Lancaster News