Create an Account - Increase your productivity, customize your experience, and engage in information you care about.
An optimistic Jasper County Council Chairman Tom Johnson addressed the crowd at Palmetto Electric in Hardeeville last week during the State of the County breakfast.
“We hope to keep moving up and we have made some progress,” Johnson said at the Jan. 30 event hosted by the county’s chamber of commerce. “Service on council is a series of paradoxes; we want to increase services and lower taxes. You want to treat everybody special, but yet treat everybody equal. We want economic development, but we also want to preserve the environment.”
He said diversifying the tax base is a priority.
“We diversify our tax base through economic development, whether it is fee-in-lieu of taxes or taxes, then we can fight this perpetual paradox of more taxes and more services,” he said.
Johnson said the county will benefit economically will be the addition of two new solar farms, although the projects initially were met with some opposition.
“Solar energy is supposed to be the answer to saving the environment at the global level and it is a pretty benign use of the property and generally considered an environmental plus,” he said. “These projects are going to be a great diversification of the tax base along with several other economic development projects.”
Some of the projects the county completed last year included having a new Waste Management facility in Hardeeville and the Ridgeland Pellet Company opened operations in Ridgeland. Capital projects completed last year included a storm water extension project in Cypress Ridge Industrial Park that was funded by a $375,000 grant from Palmetto Electric Cooperative; approximately $6 million (95 percent grant funded) in construction for the runway and taxiway at the Ridgeland-Claude Dean Airport; and reconstruction of Tuten’s Landing boat ramp, funded by the Land and Water Conservation fund.
Johnson said the county continues to make efforts to move forward with having the Jasper Ocean Terminal constructed in a timely manner. County Council recently agreed to delay filing a lawsuit against the S.C. Ports Authority at the request of the county’s legislative delegation in hopes that a resolution could be reached.
Last year, the S.C. Ports Authority changed the expected start date for construction of the Jasper Ocean Terminal from 2025 to 2035 because of increased capacity at the Charleston port.
“The port is going to happen,” he said. “We have powerful forces aligned against having it happen in a timely manner, but we are optimistic that we are going to move forward on the port and on some other areas that are port related but not directly about the port.”
Johnson said he remained optimistic about bringing jobs to Jasper County so that its citizens will not have to commute long hours to work each day. He cited a recent news story that stated there was a crisis for workers in the Hilton Head area. Johnson said he did not wish ill will toward Hilton Head, but he believed the news was positive for the county because it could mean more workers have stayed in Jasper.
“When I read that, I took that as somebody giving me an ‘A’ on my report card because my overwhelming dream is that people from Jasper County will not have to leave the county to go to work and make a good living. These headlines mean somebody didn’t have to get up in Pineland, Ridgeland, Gillisonville or Hardeeville to commute to a seasonal, low-paying job with no real future and no real benefits,” Johnson said. “To the extent that there may be a correlation from the headlines, that means we are making progress and that progress is something we are working on every day.”
Hardeeville continues to grow
Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams said he could have never imagined the positive changes he has seen in the city since becoming mayor in 2016.
Williams presented a video which included many of the city’s accomplishments during the past year. One of the biggest accomplishments was the approval for Hardeeville’s indoor recreation center. Williams said the recreation department is working on a community festival to replace the Catfish Festival, which ended this year after 43 years as an event. The city also held groundbreakings on several projects, including Fire Station 81, Latitude Margaritaville, and what will be the new campus for Royal Live Oaks Academy.
“The front portion of old City Hall was renovated and the Jasper County Chamber of Commerce opened their new Hardeeville satellite office and visitor’s center,” Williams said. “The city signed on to participate in the regional storm water plan initiated by Southern Lowcountry Advisory Board.”
Williams said the city had set a goal to explore new ways to deliver essential services and has already offered a comprehensive proposal to deliver fire protection to southern Jasper County that will save the county an initial $2.5 million and an additional $350,000 each year thereafter.
Williams said economic development brings job opportunities, education incentives to the children, and new tax revenues to the city, county, and schools.
“We believe that a yearly prudent reduction of millage provides stimulus to investors and most importantly, gives much needed tax relief to our residents,” he said. “We believe that we owe the people we serve this reward, and 2019 will see the seventh straight reduction in millage; a systemic reduction that has seen millage go from 153 to 117 and this council is committed to make it eight straight. This council did not stop there. Because of our belief in lower taxes and economic stimuli, the council also reduced business license rates for 2019.”
Ridgeland welcoming new fire station addition
Ridgeland Mayor Joey Malphrus discussed public safety and updated the progress on the town’s newest addition to its fire station.
“Our big news is with our fire department and our new facility,” Malphrus said. “This building is adjoining our current facility on Railroad Avenue. They have tremendously outgrown the facility.”
Malphrus said the current facility was built in 1984. It has three adults sharing one bunk area with one bathroom shared by everyone at the station. The new facility will add 3,000 square feet with five additional bunk rooms, offices, and living rooms.
“I want to credit Dennis Averkin, our town administrator, for overseeing the project as it came in several hundred thousand dollars less than our lowest bid and it was done using our own labor and I credit them for that,” Malphrus said.
Malphrus said the facility will serve as the emergency operations center in the case of a natural disaster. He said the original facility was also being renovated and it will continue to be used as well. He reported that the town’s fire department had responded to about 1,500 calls for service last year, including medical, auto accidents and structure fire calls. He also noted the department also participated in community outreach with fire safety programs, CPR training for the public, and the department also participated in the Fill the Boot program to raise money for muscular dystrophy.
The Ridgeland Police Department, Malphrus said, received new vehicles and purchased new handguns. He said the police department also signed a mutual aid agreement with the Hardeeville Police Department.
“We do all we can to make sure they have the safest equipment possible to keep us all safe,” he said.
Malphrus also said the town established water and sewer rates in July and was proud that the rates were less than some others in the area. He also mentioned the town had its audit and it was in good financial shape, crediting all of the town’s employees for the work they do each day.