Chapin, SC (Connor Radtke) - On Thursday afternoon, the Chapin Town Council held a special called meeting and work session to discuss several things going on in the community. The topics of discussion for the meeting included adopting Lexington County’s floodplain ordinances, the Columbia Avenue widening project, the Screaming Eagles special-needs athletics project, options for raising revenue for the town, and what would be included on the June 5, 2018 town council agenda.
The meeting started with a call to order and a roll call to determine if a quorum was reached. Following the call to order,the council discussed each of the agenda items.
One key issue the council discussed was the need for the town to find a way to raise revenue in the future. The town has experienced a short fall in business license revenue from what was budgeted for this year of about $143,000. Even though the finance director said that she expects that the town will recover at some point, this should be a wake-up call for Chapin. One large business could move out or cease doing business in Chapin and that could be catastrophic. Although they did see a budget savings to date in 2018 due to several key positions being vacant, those are about to be filled. Clearly, the growth of the town is outpacing what funds they receive from various sources one official pointed out.
Councilman Al Koon brought up the possibility of raising the franchise fees the town charges utilities. A franchise fee is assessed on utility companies as a “lease” for the use of public rights-of-way through the town. According to the Municipal Association of South Carolina, typical franchises for use of public streets include those for electric power and gas lines as well as cable providers. They are a key source of revenue for a municipality like Chapin.
At one point, the town leaders also discussed whether a millage increase on personal property taxes might be needed one day and the idea of a hospitality tax again. Although a hospitality tax can only be used for certain items and expenses, this would share some of the burden of the town’s expenses with the people who live outside its borders. Those people are actually the majority of the population of the region that are burdening the town’s services. Currently, they are waiting on last year’s audit results to start the next year’s budget and that process may further expose the need for increased revenue for Chapin. No decisions were made but you can expect to hear this topic come up again in the future.
When the discussion on the widening of Columbia Avenue (S-48) came up, Mayor Knight said he had stopped by the businesses close to the interstate to discuss it with the on-duty managers. Although many of them were very busy and had only a short time to talk, most didn’t realize that the new interchange would change how the businesses are accessed. They wouldn’t connect directly to Columbia Avenue, they would instead be accessed through a loop that circled around behind them. This would be safer and cut back on traffic stalling as motorist waited to turn, however most really didn’t like losing their direct driveway connections to Columbia Avenue. The mayor didn’t get to speak with most of those businesses owners because with a few exceptions, they are franchises whose owners aren’t in and out daily. After more discussion, Mayor Knight said he felt it might be time to have another public meeting with the SCDOT officials and once again invited everyone to come. There have already been several, including a standing room only one at Our Lady of the Lake in 2017 and one in the first quarter of 2018, but the mayor didn’t make the 2017 one and he felt like people needed another opportunity to comment. He said he liked the idea of leaving Columbia Avenue much like it is and adding a few turn lanes at some places. The mayor said that he and other residents had gotten used to traffic in Chapin and he felt like they could deal with the traffic tie-ups in the future. He also doesn’t like the idea of the by-pass because he was afraid that it might make the old downtown forgotten.
One other key topic that the leaders discussed was a bill that has been in the state legislature that would make the SCDOT pay for relocation of utilities when they make road improvements and relocation is required. Currently, the town is being forced to relocate the utilities at Old Chapin and Murray Lindler Roads because the SCDOT is building the new round-about there. If Chapin foots the bill, it will cost the Chapin Utilities Department about $250,000. Although the bill to make the DOT pay those expenses failed to make it out of the legislature, members of the Lexington County Legislative Delegation have said there may be money in the state budget that would start in July for the SCDOT to reimburse those expenses to utility owners. Chapin plans to wait on their relocation as long as they can to see if that happens and if it remains, how they would apply for the reimbursements.
Before closing, a few other mundane items of business were discussed. Mayor Knight expressed the fact that he didn’t like to have to approve agenda items that were being placed on those publicly published list of what would happen at their meetings. That is dictated by an ordinance that says the mayor needs to do that. Mayor Knight felt like it might be better if everyone could just add whatever they'd like. This was discussed further and will probably be discussed more in the future. The regular council meeting is held on the first Tuesday of the month at 7:00 p.m.