Regional elected officials talk about 2017 goals at COG forum

Elected officials from the region, including Chester County Supervisor Shane Stuart, got a chance to brief interested listeners about their goals for 2017 during the recent Catawba Regional Council of Governments (COG) Elected Officials Forum, held at the Gateway Conference Center.

After economic and budget presentations by Matthew Martin, a senior vice president of the Charlotte office of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and Michael Shealy, budget director of the S.C. Senate Finance Committee, officials for the four counties that make up the Catawba COG service area – Chester, Lancaster, Union and York Counties – took to the stage to brief forum attendees on, as COG Executive Director Randy Imler called them “priorities and opportunities” for their county.

Chester County

Event host county Chester went first, with County Supervisor Shane Stuart welcoming everyone to the Gateway Center.

“We’re proud of everything that goes on and we’re proud to have you here at the Gateway. These are exciting times for the region. Some of the economic news we’ve heard tonight might be doom and gloom, but we have a positive outlook in Chester County. The county is experiencing a lot of growth – new buildings are being built, homes are being remodeled, sales tax collection rates are up. We’re just now completing a sales tax projects list of almost 60 projects across the county. That’s exciting. We have a lot of construction projects in the county. People come into our community and they spend money to buy food, buy gas, and visit, and that’s what we want to see.”

“The year 2017 is going to be a great year. Giti Tire will be coming on-line. Carolina Poly will be coming on-line. We’re proud to say we’re going to be manufacturing tires in Chester County in 2017, and we’ll be manufacturing trash bags at Carolina Poly,” Stuart said.

He said a priority connected with economic development is improving the workforce.

“We’re so used to being all about textiles for so long and so long and now we’ve got to try and get our people out into the modern working world. I think some of the apprenticeship programs we have started in the region, working with York Tech and the school district, that will be a good thing. We’re reaching out to seventh graders, letting them know: you want to work in manufacturing or you want to work in law enforcement or EMS (and when I was growing up in Chester County my momma was a jailer and I looked up to her and always wanted to be that, that’s how I got into law enforcement;) you’ve got to make that impression and get them interested. They will be our future workforce,” he said.

“It’s a good day to live, work and grow in Chester County,” he said.

Lancaster County

Lancaster County Council Chairman Steve Harper said the county did a lot of work on a large number of the county roads in 2016, funded from local sources, SCDOT and state legislature funding, a special project sales tax, the Council of Governments and the county transportation committee.

“Between all these sources in 2016, we laid 105.91 miles of asphalt in Lancaster County. In economic development in 2016, we made economic development a county department. Announcements in 2016 included CompuCom, Central Wire, PCI Group, Nutramax, Red Ventures, Lineberger Industrial Park, along with Haile Gold Mine beginning mining operations. Preliminary numbers are 1,924 announced new jobs and an investment of a little over $80 million,” he said.

“Both commercial and residential construction hit record numbers in 2016, with most of it being in the panhandle, and the Charlotte region,” he said.

Lancaster County also completed their unified development ordinance, and update of a previous ordinance.

“We also have the same problems Chester County has with workforce development. As we head in to 2017, we have implemented a Hospitality Tax and county council has stated the main goal will be a large recreational venue that can host tournament and travel teams, but a large complex is obviously a main goal.”

Harper reported Lancaster County is also looking at impact fees, as well as updating the county comprehensive plan.

Union County

Union County Supervisor Frank Hart said the county has completed a strategy put together be the development board with construction of a spec building. The building was a joint effort between the City of Union and Union County.

“The spec building did actually what it was supposed to do; we built it, we sold it and we recovered all of the public money that had been invested. The building has been acquired and it’s part of a project we hope to announce at the end of the first quarter, which is really going to be a significant investment for Union County, as well as job growth,” he said.

He referenced an earlier speaker’s comment on the difference between importing a workforce as opposed to growing one at home.

“When you think about a rural county, a home-grown workforce is really our Number One option, because it’s very difficult to import. We took some actions last year to “increase the quality of the crop,” we were thankful to cut the ribbon on the Spartanburg Community College campus in Union – that campus will be offering the Mechatronics program, which is important to support your manufacturing industry.

“We also rolled out what we call the Union County Community Scholarship Program; it will allow folks who finish high school in Union or complete a GED to attend either Spartanburg Community College campus in Union or the University of South Carolina campus in Union tuition free. The idea there is not only if we can educate them, we can retain those students, and they’ll help us grow our community as opposed to moving to another place.”

Union County received about $2 million from the state legislature that went to C-funds for road improvements, and Hart said the county would love to see that happen again this year.

“We were also able to resurface about 50 county roads,” he said.

Hart also touched on the topic of workforce readiness.

“That is the challenge in rural counties. On the question of importing the workforce, when you look at the 23 smallest counties in South Carolina and look at the population growth over the last 15 years, there really is nothing to look at – we’re finding our employers are having issues finding quality employees, because we do have an aging population. We are doing what we can to improve quality of life issues, recreational opportunities. The City of Union completed a project, Main Street Junction, a conference center and a venue where folks could be; we’ve had activities like walking trails, community cleanups, and demolition of dilapidated structures. The key for these rural counties is going to be growth – we have to have the people, we have to have the population growth, because without that, we’re not going to be able to support our existing industries and we’re certainly not going to be able to attract new industry,” he said.

“We’re competing against those larger metropolitan counties in terms of drawing people into our communities,” Hart said. He said the county passed the Local Option Sales Tax for property tax relief, a measure that had been defeated two times prior.

“We think one of the things rural counties face is rising costs with declining revenues, so this is an opportunity to provide some tax relief for our citizens. Out of every dollar raised through that tax, about 45 cents of that will come from folks outside of Union County,” he said.

York County

York County Councilmember Chad Williams reminded the crowd at last year’s forum he spoke about a referendum to address the county’s facility needs.

“This year I will be telling you how many buildings we built: we built zero. We have plans for a lot of good buildings and hopefully this time next year, we’ll be talking about a lot of buildings under construction,” Williams said.

He said the citizens also voted on whether to have staggered four-year terms for their county councilmembers as many other counties do. That measure passed.

Williams said then staggered terms could provide some continuity between election cycles and allow some long-term projects to be seen through. He also expressed his hope the county could “move away from being a reactive government to a pro-active form of government.”

The York County citizens also approved a tax to build their recreation program, Williams said.

He said the county has two new goals, one is to get more involved in the fire service.

“We’ve seen some things that our fellow counties have done that we want to copy. One of the greatest benefits of the COG is we can share in some ideas,” he said.

By Brian Garner, Staff Reporter with The News & Reporter