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THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES

Waccamaw Neck projects still atop county's list

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County’s capital improvement plan took a hit as a result of the economic recession, but it won’t have a major impact on the plan’s implementation.

County Council members received an update on the plan in a special meeting Tuesday, including the latest financial data and which projects are closest in line for funding.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway said projected revenue has decreased by about $25 million since council last looked at the $330 million plan a year ago. As a result of the reduction, some projects, including a new Georgetown Library were pushed back, but no projects were canceled.

Projects for Waccamaw Neck are still on track, including a tournament-level tennis complex planned for 2010 and a recreation center in Parkersville scheduled for construction 2012 and 2013.

A new Waccamaw Library is to be constructed in 2013 and 2014.

“I think we’re in good shape up here,” said Council Member Jerry Oakley. “Our projects are going ahead, because here, the need is there. In the areas where the need has not yet materialized, we can obviously delay with no ill effects.”

Part of the reason for the revenue shortfall is that some developments, such as Crown Pointe, have been delayed as a result of the economy. The corresponding need for new and improved facilities in that area is also delayed as a result, so those were the first projects to be postponed, Oakley said.

Council Member Glen O’Connell said he’s pleased with the projects on the list and believes Waccamaw Neck residents have cause to celebrate.

“I think it’s real progress for us here on the Neck, with the emphasis on roads and parks and recreation, and the library,” he said. “I think it’s coming together. Each time we see it, there’s a little more definition to it. The good news is we’ve got the right projects on there and we’re retaining them.”

Hemingway said it came as no surprise that revenue for capital projects was significantly less than anticipated.

Projections for revenue from impact fees on new construction have been reduced by about $9.6 million through fiscal year 2017, a result of a delay in implementation and the downturn in the economy. Projected revenue from hospitality and accommodations tax revenue were reduced by $4.3 million, projections for interest earnings was reduced by about $500,000, and projected property tax revenue is expected to be about $750,000 less than originally anticipated.

Council members were given a schedule of projects planned through 2018, the first phase of the plan, but asked to focus on the more immediate projects, those included in fiscal years 2010-2012. Council will review the information and approve the updated plan at its next meeting, Oct. 27.

Approval will allow county staff to move forward with upcoming projects, including renovations to the courthouse on Screven Street, which houses county offices. The plan proposes spending $1.8 million on the renovations in 2010.

A new judicial center was completed this summer and all court functions were moved into that building. Plans are to move the building, planning, zoning, stormwater and GIS departments into the courthouse and alter the layout to allow departments already there to spread out.

Hemingway said he’d like to have all the departments that regularly deal with the public to be located in the courthouse, creating a “one- stop shopping” experience for county residents.

Council’s approval of the updated plan would also give the Waccamaw Library $80,000 in 2010 to replace the roof on the current building and $150,000 over the course of 2010 and 2011 to be used as seed money for fund-raising efforts for a new library.

The Friends of the Waccamaw Library plans to use that money to pay for architectural renderings and promotional materials to be used in fund-raising.

The Friends originally agreed to raise $500,000 toward a new library, but their fund-raising goal has grown to $2.6 million to incorporate grant funding that was anticipated for the project.

Jean Cross, Friends president, said plans are to hire a professional fund-raiser to help with the mission.

“This changes the whole scope of the fund-raising effort,” she said. “We’re very excited, but of course we realize this is definitely a much bigger task and one that is not completely doable by volunteers.”

Oakley said the project he’s most excited about is a new Murrells Inlet Community Center, which is scheduled to receive $1.5 million between 2010 and 2012.

There was debate about whether the county should renovate the existing center or build a new one, but “the input we’re getting from folks is overwhelmingly that trying to rehab the building we have just doesn’t make sense,” Oakley said.

O’Connell said he’s happy to see more clarity as to transportation projects. The latest draft of the plan identifies projects to be completed with county funding, as well as those that will receive S.C. Department of Transportation funding.

Previous drafts of the plan contained vague information on transportation projects while the county awaited completion of a transportation master plan.

Projects in the plan include improvements to the turn lanes at Willbrook Boulevard and the medians from the North Causeway to Martin Luther King Road, extension of Library Lane to Waverly Road, extension of Petigru Drive to Aspen Loop, realignment of Petigru and Waverly Road, and connection of Beaumont Drive to Petigru Drive.

The plan also calls for recreation projects on Waccamaw Neck, including multipurpose fields and a baseball complex in Litchfield in 2012, and an upgrade to Wachesaw Park in 2010.

As the plan progresses, Hemingway said the county will keep a close eye on costs for operation and maintenance of new facilities to ensure council doesn’t overextend itself by building facilities it can’t afford to run and keep up.

“We’re certainly comfortable undertaking projects in this three-year window and paying for the operations and maintenance, but each year we’ll go through it again and make sure we will not run out of money from an operations and maintenance standpoint,” he said.

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