Private road work, downtown development, penny tax, dilapidated homes have all been on city, county agendas in the past month


Both the City of Sumter and Sumter County have had dense meeting agendas during the last month, discussing topics ranging from private road maintenance to development. Here are some of the main headlines:

County leaders consider making private road work possible with special tax districts

County Administrator Gary Mixon told Sumter County Council in April there is still a need to do extensive research on what's involved in the upkeep of private dirt and gravel roads through implementing special tax districts, as he only knows of one other area in the state that has gone through with the strategy.

Newberry in recent years has created special tax districts for some private roads to fall under.

This solution, if feasible for Sumter County, which is yet to be determined, would make it so the county does not have to take ownership or liability of the roads but can still perform minimal road maintenance. This potential solution would, however, make it so the cost would be divided up among all the property owners on that road, and that will be added to their tax bill.

"This is where the real challenge is gonna be," Mixon said. "What can we do to hold down that cost as best we can because these folks already are in a situation where they are having difficulty paying taxes, so we don't wanna overburden them."

A story published in the Newberry Observer on Jan. 22, 2020, titled, "Newberry County Council discuss special tax districts," details the creation of two special tax districts in the county for the sake of road maintenance.

Voters living in the Mountain View subdivision approved the creation of the special tax district by a margin of 16-2 in December 2019, reporter Andrew Wigger wrote.

"The purpose is to maintain the unpaved roadways of their subdivision," Newberry County Administrator Wayne Adams is quoted as saying in the article. "The approved referendum calls for a not-to-exceed $150 annual uniform service charge to offset expenses incurred by Newberry County in providing this service."

To make this possible, the county council there had to approve an ordinance, and the property owners living in that area had to be in support as well; the same would apply in Sumter County, too.

Today, Sumter County has 110 miles of dirt road and 85 miles of gravel road, Public Works Director Karen Hyatt said during an April 23 committee meeting.

Earlier reporting from The Sumter Item details multiple county locals voicing to government officials the struggles they face daily just leaving their driveway. There are numerous private dirt and gravel roads in Sumter County that are challenging to drive on, leaving some locals living on those roads spending more at the car mechanic than one might have to otherwise, and more frequently discussed have been the challenges emergency vehicles have traversing these private roads that are not the county's legal responsibility to provide upkeep on.

County leaders will discuss this further during upcoming public meetings.

Downtown South Main Street property to become retail, apartments space

Sumter County owns property at 13 S. Main St. that officials hope will be converted into a retail and living space.

The property, which is near Sumter Original Brewery, has been vacant for several years.

County officials are incentivizing the potential developer to make the first floor of the property a retail space and turn the second floor into apartments.

County attorney Johnathan Bryan told council that the developer would have certain deadlines to meet to acquire loan forgiveness and that the goal is to increase the value of the property to $1 million three years after the sale of the property.

Sumter penny sales tax prep continues with commission meetings

The six residents appointed to the 2024 Capital Penny Sales Tax Commission have started discussing how the penny might address public needs throughout Sumter County.

There have been four meetings during the last week of April and the first week of May, each of which mostly took place in executive session. The topics discussed during the executive sessions, as detailed on the agendas, include public safety, transportation, infrastructure, economic development and quality of life.

Here are the six people who Sumter County officials have named to the 2024 Capital Penny Sales Tax Commission (documents detail what area each person represents as well as race and gender to show whether the committee is representative of the county's demographics):

Herb McClary represents Sumter County and is a Black man.

David Bagwell represents Sumter County and is a white man.

Traci Nelson represents Sumter County and is a white woman.

Earl Wilson represents the City of Sumter and is a Black man. He was selected to be the chairman.

Kimberly Rauschenbach represents the City of Sumter and is a white woman. She was selected to be the vice chairwoman.

Nancy Williams represents the Town of Mayesville and is a Black woman.

If the Capital Penny Sales Tax, also called the Penny for Progress initiative, gets a majority approval from voters this November, there will be an added charge of 1% of the sales tax imposed that will fund capital projects, and it will be active for no more than seven years if voters approve it. There is currently no penny tax.

This added charge of 1% of the sales tax would apply to most items except non-prepared food items (groceries), prescription drugs and medical supplies.

Dilapidated homes

Talk of demolishing dilapidated homes across the city and county has been happening during local government meetings for a while now, and officials are nearing the next demolition.

City Manager Deron McCormick told council during the April 16 meeting that city officials have an ongoing list of homes that will be torn down to eliminate blight in the area but that they're having to go about executing the process in a specific way so that the demolitions will be covered by grants. This process is also being done in collaboration with the county, he said.

"We know what the addresses are," McCormick said. "And what's had the clearance, what's had the environmental and what's ready to actually tear down."

According to 2023 reporting from The Sumter Item, demolition will be made possible through two grants, one from Congressman Jim Clyburn's office and one from Sen. Lindsey Graham's office.

This money, however, will be seen in the form of reimbursement from the federal government.

The county will be fiscally responsible and will be reimbursed with the grant.

The process to make these demolitions happen is strenuous and takes a while because every homeowner of the abandoned homes needs to be contacted and sign a release allowing the city or county to take ownership of the property and demolish the structure.

Reasons the homeowners are hard to reach vary, but for many of the dilapidated properties, the most recent resident is dead, so the home likely belongs to a relative who lives far away and does not perform upkeep on the property, according to McCormick.

And on the other side of the process, local officials have to wait for the go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Codes director for the city John Macloskie said late last year there are about 200 homes in the city and about 100 in the county that could soon be slated for demolition, but odds are some property owners whose homes are on the list will not consent, so there may be leftover funding that could be used for other demolitions once the current list is exhausted.

The city and county applied for the grants at the end of 2022 but had performed an abandoned housing survey more than a year ago. The next survey will be done in about three years, as the survey is done every four years.

Most of the homes on the list, according to Macloskie, are in South Sumter.