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Town of Chapin leaders discuss creating town administrator’s position, no decisions made

Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) – The newly elected leaders of Chapin discussed hiring a town administrator at their last work session. This employee would have the responsibility of helping the newly elected mayor run the day-to-day operations of the town. Chapin’s current form of government is called a Strong Mayor system. This is the form, one of three in South Carolina, the citizens decided on years ago. They reaffirmed that by voting for it again over the last four years. In that system, the mayor can act as the manager or they can hire someone to help him. Other strong mayors across the state get paid a great deal more than Knight to act as the manager of their municipalities. They generally oversee all the department heads, monitor the finances closely, and perform other day-to-day functions. It can be physically taxing and a very time-consuming job.

Since the new officials took office, two of the town’s employees have left to take other jobs. Karen Owens, their director of communications and economic development, left at the end of December to go to work for the state treasurer. Chris Clauson, the town’s former zoning administrator, left to work for Fairfield County in January. These positions haven’t been filled, and some of their responsibilities were key to what’s going on in and around the booming town now, and over the past four years. These positions were both recommended by the last group that was hired to help develop a strategic plan for the town.

At the work session, Mayor David Knight expressed to the council his desire to have assistance overseeing the town. Knight is a semiretired attorney that at age 74, is older than former Mayor Skip Wilson. Wilson chose to manage the town’s operations himself, something allowed by the strong mayor system. Wilson was strongly criticized for this during his term. Knight said at the session he didn’t want to be tied down at the town hall as much, a situation that is necessary if he goes it alone without some form of administrative help.

Councilman Al Koon told the council and mayor that he had contacted the SC Municipal Association, the organization that municipalities turn to for help. He spoke with Jeff Shacker, former city manager of Newberry, and the association’s field services manager for the Chapin area. He is an expert in the managing of municipalities and who towns call for assistance.

Shacker told Koon that to hire someone to take on the responsibilities of being town administrator for a town like Chapin, they needed to offer a salary from $95,000 to $120,00 per year. They would also need to factor in that person’s benefits too. Shacker said that the job pool for a person of the caliber the town would need to hire has shrunk in past years. Qualified candidates are much younger and less experienced now. He said that an administrator would also probably need some sort of assistant, another job that could cost the town money.

Chapin leaders have discussed combining the salaries of Owens and Clauson and hiring the administrator with that money. Koon said he personally doesn’t believe it would be realistic to think the town administrator could also be zoning administrator for a town growing as fast as Chapin. The zoning administrator reviews plans for new construction, remodels, and other development to ensure that they follow the standards that have been set by the town’s leaders. Clauson also helped with lawsuits brought by businesses who sought to skirt or disagreed with the standards. With the amount of development happening in the town, that in and of itself is really a full-time job, Koon suggested. Right now, the town’s in the process of hammering out a deal to contract with the Central Midlands Council of Governments to do the zoning job in a limited capacity, but the COG doesn’t appear willing to do take over all the duties Clauson handled.

As Chapin’s leaders get started in their term governing the town, they are facing some very difficult decisions. If they take over the two school resources officers positions at Chapin High School as Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon has suggested, they would be held liable for 25% of the cost of those positions. If an administrator is hired for day-to-day management, that would set them back the $90,000 plus, and then there’s the zoning job too. This doesn't include a town attorney Knight has suggested, or someone to deal with the communications and economic development duties. Without some major cuts elsewhere in the budget, this would require them to raise revenues, something they aren’t even discussing or want to consider.

More discussion is planned for this and other important issues at future works sessions. These are normally held on Thursday afternoons at 3:00 p.m. and are very informative. The next full council meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday, February 6 at 7:00 p.m. at the town hall. You can learn more about the town by looking at their website at https://www.chapinsc.com/.

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