PW Fee Info

Have a question about the Public Works fee? Councilwoman Sherry Roche has posted information about it, and has been actively engaged in answering citizen questions on her page. I would encourage you to to read her post and Q&A thread. She’s done an excellent job addressing this topic. Here’s a direct link to that post: https://bit.ly/32hnJjm

Updates from 6.26.18 Meeting

Here are some updates from the 6.26.18 Committee of the Whole meeting that you might find interesting:

 PUBLIC WORKS

Continuing to work on sewer and other infrastructure improvements on SE Main in support of the new restroom building and alleyway improvements to be constructed. I am excited that we are making progress on this project because the restrooms downtown will make spending time there much more appealing—and that’s good foe everyone!

Crosswalks downtown have been painted for improved pedestrian safety.  We have more people than ever downtown these days, so it’s important that we keep our very walkable downtown as safe as possible for our residents and visitors.

PARKS and RECREATION

Director Robbie Davis is working with Greenville County Redevelopment Authority on improvements to the Senior Center utilizing CDBG funding.  This funding is provided to the city for improvements to low-to-moderate income areas of the city. We received updates on this funding an recommendations for its use earlier this year.  This is a great way to use this money.

ADMINISTRATION

Justin Campbell has accepted the position of Community Relations Specialist with the City of Simpsonville. Justin is a graduate of Clemson University with a degree in Journalism. He has experience writing for The Tiger and, most recently, The Seneca Journal. Justin has strong communication skills coupled with excellent writing skills. He will be a tremendous asset in disseminating City information to media outlets, pushing content through social media, and working with all City departments on graphic presentations and grant writing. We welcome Justin to Team Simpsonville and look forward to working with him!

Leaves, the Sewer, and This Election

Last August, I told you about the critical situation we faced with our sewer and explained how it related to our decision to contract with ACE for garbage, recycling, and yard debris pickup.  As I told you then, we were only 3% of the way through a critical, mandatory project  would cost us HUGE fines if not completed correctly and on time.   A large part of the reason for this is that our Public Works Department was (and had been for quite some time) seriously under-resourced.  They lacked both the equipment and personnel to do the critical sewer work. Councilman Gooch, who has been on Council longer than I have, has been doing a series of Facebook posts that go into a great deal of detail about the budget decisions made by previous administrations that left our Public Works Department so under-resourced.  These posts are definitely worth a read.

The state of the Public Works Department when we entered office was such that we had no other choice but to contract some of its services.  Doing so opened up resources for other areas within the Public Works Department, such as the necessary and urgent sewer repairs.

Certainly, bagging leaves and bundling debris was no one’s ideal situation, and Council understands that citizens are unhappy and want answers.  This is why in this year’s budget we found a fiscally sustainable way to resume our previous curbside brush pickup.  Leaves are next.

Being a Council member isn’t easy.  And we are often faced with tough decisions like the one we faced with the Public Works Department.  We didn’t create those problems, but it is our responsibility to fix them.  Since January of 2016, we have inspected and cleaned 57% of our sewer lines.  We repaired 32,000 feet of CIPP pipe lining. 15 point repairs have been made.  500 feet of sewer replacement has been completed, and 6 creek crossings have been rebuilt. Those are huge gains. All of that was made possible by reallocating our scarce resources within the Public Works Department.

I know that’s little comfort to those still struggling with leaf bagging.  But I also know this: Council is committed to finding a fiscally sustainable way to get us back to curbside leaf pickup.  When we can, we will.  We’re working on it every day.  And I look forward to working with our new Council members to make it happen.

Listen: it’s an election year, and leaves are the hot topic.  And so, of course, the candidates are all talking about it.  And many of them promise answers.  It’s easy to make promises, especially if you don’t have all the facts.  So when they’re talking to you about leaf vacs, I would encourage you not to accept any easy answers.  If it were easy, I can guarantee you we would’ve done it already. But it’s not.  It’s much more complicated than the going through the budget line by line to find money for trucks.  It’s much more complicated than the need for equipment.  If they’re talking to you about allegedly fiscally sustainable options but not explaining how to do that without sacrificing the critical sewer needs, they’re not giving you real solutions.

Meeting Updates

ICYMI: here are some updates from last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting:

Public Works

  • All temporary easements have been sign and work will soon begin on the sidewalks in Woodside Mill area.
  • Engineering work has begun on the headways in Hunters’ Hill road and Powderhorn Dr.
  • Street crews have cleaned 60 storm drains to allow for quicker removal of standing water in roadways.
  • Creek crossing at Grandview repairs are underway. We only have one remaining in Poinsettia.

Police Department

  • Police Department has renewed their traffic safety grant in the amount of $62,000.00. The grant funds the position and benefits for this program.
  • A replacement traffic counter has been ordered to allow us to finish the traffic study in Hunters Woods.

Fire Department

  • Progress is still being made on Station Five.
  • Fire Department personnel will be participating in Fire Safe SC held by the State Fire Marshal Office to address reducing fire deaths within the State.

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Rec have cleaned up the plaza area on North Main Street in front of Shortfields and will continue on South Main in the following weeks.

Chamber of Commerce

The Chamber has requested they be allowed to submit a monthly report as other departments within the City in lieu of appearing monthly. Staff have suggested that they appear quarterly, and they were receptive to this.

Administration

  • Planner I, Ben Hyde’s first day was the day of this meeting: September 26th. We look forward to having him on board and are excited about what he can bring to Simpsonville.
  • We have made some office changes at City Hall to allow for a conference room.
  • Interim City Administrator, Chief Wesley Williams, will be attending the Greenville Administrator meeting on September 20th.

Other new hires for August were:

  • Brandon Davis – Police
  • Diane Kennedy – Police
  • Michael Milam – Fire
  • James Mosley – Police
  • William Preston – Fire
  • Travis Tarrant – Recreation

We welcome these new employees to Team Simpsonville!  It takes all of us working together–One Simpsonville–to make Simpsonville the best it can be!

Returning a Service in a Sustainable Way

In reading some of the comments on the survey, I’ve realized I should clarify our plan for brush collection. The proposed budget provides for the purchase (through a bond) of two new brush collection trucks and provides funds for two new personnel to go along with them. This means that the city will be providing the service—as it did before.

One person asked why we don’t get one brush truck and one leaf truck and alternate them each week, so we can provide both services. And that’s a valid question—one I asked myself. So here’s the thing: we’re planning long-term, not short-term—something the city has absolutely must improve on. We ended up in the situation we were in last year because we pushed our equipment too far, expected too much out of what little we had, for far too long. Simpsonville has simply grown too much for one truck to serve us all. That’s why, you’ll recall, we often waited multiple weeks for pick up. The truck just couldn’t keep up with the volume. And the years of trying took its toll on the equipment. This go round, we’re planning smarter. If we want a sustainable brush service long term, we need two trucks, not one. And we need a plan for maintaining and replacing equipment, so we don’t just drive our equipment into the ground. If we’re going to do it, we need to do it right. Period. Otherwise, a few years down the road, we’ll be right back where we were.

What the Businesses Say…

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In my previous post, I told you that at our public hearing for the budget, several business owners expressed their concerns about eliminating trash services to the downtown businesses who still receive them.

{Years ago, the city of Simpsonville decided to stop commercial trash collection, yet continued to provide the service to approximately 35% of our businesses–primarily those downtown.}

I said in that previous post that their concerns are valid, and I share some of them.  I didn’t specify what those concerns were. So what are they?  The Chamber of Commerce surveyed their members, and 21 replied to the survey.  Allison McGarity of the Chamber summarized their concerns in a letter to Council.

Here’s [part of] what it said:

“After reviewing the survey responses and discussing the matter with business owners, it is clear to me that their disapproval can be attributed to three major areas of concern: the financial burden this decision will place on businesses, the lack of transparency surrounding the process, and the degradation of the City’s appearance.

Understandably, the primary reason for concern is the financial impact on businesses and the long-term increase in the cost of doing business here. Survey respondents reported an average cost increase of $3,600 per year for their business to secure adequate trash removal services. That amount will be a difficult challenge for many of our local small businesses and will tie up capital that could have otherwise been used for salaries, rent payments, etc. These businesses will be forced to pass the expense to their customers by raising the prices of their products and services. In the long-term, that will make Simpsonville a less attractive destination for shopping, eating, and staying. The economic ramifications of this decision will cause Simpsonville to be less business-friendly and could result in the loss of current and future businesses to other communities with more competitive service offerings.

The second reason for concern stems from the manner in which the City distributed notification of this issue. Per the survey results, many respondents did not know about the budget’s impact on trash removal until they received our survey on Monday, June 5, 2017. Many have expressed that the City’s handling of this issue has caused them to lose trust in the City’s leaders, and they do not appreciate the obvious lack of consideration for their interests. Some respondents reported having supported various City projects in recent years, but now feel unappreciated and neglected. The long term implications of these feelings will damage the City’s reputation and perceived integrity.

The final reason for concern has not been discussed as ardently as the first two, but it should be given equal consideration. Currently, the City provides a uniform method for collecting and removing trash from our commercial and residential areas. Each area of the City has one designated pick-up day each week and a designated method for trash to be placed by the roadside for removal. If we part from this regular one-day-per-week system, and turn to the inherently irregular system that will occur when businesses are independently responsible for their trash removal, the appearance of our community will suffer. Instead of having trash carts and bins out in plain sight just once per week, they will now be out in plain sight almost every day of the week in accordance with the various service providers used by each business. Many in this community have worked very hard to improve the appearance of the City and now feel that this issue will degrade their efforts.”

After our public hearing, some business owners approached Council with a solution to retain their trash removal services without sacrificing brush pickup to residents: raise that Public Works fee even higher. We would need to raise that fee by $26, making it $50 in order to achieve this. I want to know what YOU think about paying $50/year instead of $24/year (current Public Works fee). Please read more and submit your thoughts via the survey by going here: http://bit.ly/2roQY6h.

Seeking Resident Input: Fee Increase

wp-1497397545171.UPDATE: Survey closed!

Note: There’s a survey for city residents at the bottom of this post. You will be asked for your name and address to verify city residency; however, that information will not be shared publicly.

We’ve been wrangling with the budget for about 6 months now, trying to balance the budget so that our expenses do not exceed our revenues.  City staff worked hard to present options to Council that would would balance the budget while also delivering on priorities Council discussed.

One of these priorities, as expressed by several council members, was a return to brush pickup service similar to what we had before last year’s switch to ACE.  In an ideal world, we would get both leaf and brush pickup; however, doing both was no more feasible this year than it was when we made the difficult decision last year.

Of the two, most of us agreed that the bundling of yard debris is the most burdensome on citizens.  Since September of last year, we heard regularly from residents across the city about the difficulty, frustration, and dissatisfaction resulting from the brush collection requirements.  In response to that, we created a budget that returns that service.  To do that, we will take out a bond (a loan) for equipment.  But you can’t put personnel costs on a bond.  And if you remember from last year, the problem wasn’t just a lack of equipment.  It’s the need for additional personnel to ensure we are able to complete critical work on the sewer.  We moved staff from brush and leaf collection to sewer service for that reason.  So we had to find money in the budget for two more personnel in Public Works in addition to the equipment costs.

We also couldn’t ignore other needs within the city, such as the need for a new City Planner and a new Assistant Fire Chief (read more about that here).

The majority of Council agreed that now is not the time to raise taxes–not without a long term plan for the city. But we are cognizant of the fact that we only have so many ways we can raise revenue. We can raise revenue with taxes or fees.  Since the service we are trying to restore is a Public Works service, staff recommended an increase in the Public Works fee. That recommended increase was $10, which would bring the fee from $24 to $34.  While I prefer no increase, I compromised to this $10 IF it would restore brush collection to the city.  However, we still didn’t have enough revenue to make the budget work. So staff looked for places to cut money.  One recommendation was to eliminate trash removal services to the 35% of city businesses who still receive them. These are primarily the downtown businesses.

Last night at the public hearing for the budget, we heard from a number of downtown business owners who expressed very valid concerns about this proposal, concerns that I and other council members share.  None of us want to see our small, local businesses hurt. We want to encourage growth in downtown.  But…we also want to restore the brush pickup service to our residents.

And it comes down to this: we can’t do both. At least not without raising additional revenue.

One possibility that has been floated is the idea of a larger than originally planned increase to the Public Works fee. If the Public Works fee were raised to $47-$50, we could potentially restore brush pickup and continue trash removal services to our downtown businesses.  That’s a pretty substantial increase from the $24 fee we currently have.  And I worry that there are residents, particularly in Ward 3, who cannot bear that cost.  I wasn’t happy with the $10 increase, but it was a compromise I accepted because I know how vital it is to return that brush service.

So now I ask you for your opinion: Would you support an increase in the Public Works fee that would make that fee somewhere in the ballpark of $50/year?

Please provide your feedback via this brief survey.

The intent of this survey is to solicit feedback from city residents to help inform my decisions.  Thus, you will be asked to provide your name and address to help ensure that responses are from city residents.  

Thank you! 

 

 

 

Great Things Are Happening in Ward 3!

Great things are happening in Simpsonville!  And especially in Ward 3.

We have two new Habitat for Humanity builds on Boyd Avenue (thanks to Publix for getting the funds to get these rolling!).  Walls are up on one as of last week.  This will be the new home of the Waldrop family.

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This is particularly exciting because they are the first family to be moving into a new home since Habitat kicked off the Veterans Build initiative.  Tony Waldrop served in the Marine Corps during Operation Enduring Freedom.  He and his wife Rachel are raising three great kids, and they’re both in school full time.

The second house on Boyd Avenue will become the home of Nicole Youngblood and her one-year-old son Kingston.  Construction on her home will begin in about a month.

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Habitat builds generally take about 3 months, and the paperwork and details after that take another month.  So in mid-to-late summer, we’ll be welcoming two new families to Boyd Avenue. Read about our last build (for the Bouie family, also on Boyd Ave.)  and our future plans with Habitat for Humanity here.

Elsewhere in Ward 3 this summer, we should begin to actually see progress on the Woodside Mills sidewalk project.  This one has been in the works for a while (with a lot of behind-the-scenes action), and we’re finishing up the details with DHEC and the engineer.  If everything stays on track, we’ll see construction start as early as June.

Keep an eye open for all these good things going on in Ward 3 and across Simpsonville over the next several months.

PS: we got the previously discussed street signs up at the corner of Boyd and Morton!

 

Q&A: S. Main & Richardson

Have you noticed a dip in the intersection of S. Main & Richardson Streets? 

Recently, a resident reached out to me about this issue. He said,in part, “There was utility work done on S. Main that extended through the intersection and when they filled and repaved they left a large dip affecting the eastbound direction of travel. I drive through the intersection daily and the nose of my car drags. I don’t own a low slung sports car and I’m not the only one, you can see the gouges where it happens to many drivers.” He asked if I could follow up on this issue.


I contacted Public Works Director Jay Crawford who indicated that this dip in the road will be fixed by our Public Works road crew either today, Friday, December 30th or next week. According to Mr. Crawford, although these roads are SCDOT maintenance roads, the dip was created by patchwork during sewer repair work by the City. Therefore, we will correct the problem. 

If you travel this intersection regularly, expect this problem to be corrected within a week (weather permitting). In the meantime, use the intersection with care.