HOUNDSLAKE GOLF COURSE - While this is my first post in a while, it does not mean that little of importance has been happening in Aiken. Most of you know about the turmoil and stress imposed on the residents of Houndslake North regarding the proposed closure of the Laurel golf course. I spent many hours helping other members of the Steering Committee to communicate options available to residents involved. We concluded with a very successful community meeting held at Odell Weeks.
While residents recently received a confirmation letter regarding the closure on December 31, I have been advised that there is a possibility of a delay in the closure while repairs are being made to the Azalea and Dogwood courses. Please keep in mind that this is a very fluid situation and plans change rapidly.
ZONING ORDINANCE CHANGE – At our last Council Meeting on November 17, we were asked to approve an ordinance dealing with Accessory Buildings in the Horse District. Currently an accessory building cannot be larger than 50% of the heated floor area of the principal building. Some feel that this has caused problems in the horse district since accessory buildings are used for horses, carriages, feed supplies, etc. While the Planning Commission recommended approval, I asked for input from the horse community since it was most affected. Accordingly, this matter has been delayed until we hear from the Equine Committee.
LANDSCAPING BY SCE&G – We received input from residents of Highland Park concerning problems caused by SCE&G tree trimming. While everyone understands that SCE&G must trim trees to prevent power disruptions, there is genuine concern about their process. In the Highland Park area, there was significant damage to the area. While SCE&G v-cuts the trees, they do not share the concern of residents who want minimum visual disruption. The City has made arrangements with SCE&G with regard to South Boundary Road to preserve a treasured city asset. The City will not permit the utility cut trees in this area; instead the City performs that task. The City Manager is working with SCE&G to determine if similar arrangements can be made elsewhere within the City to trim trees at SCE&G cost to eliminate this kind of problem. I will continue to monitor this issue.
B&W SALVAGE YARD – Much of the last Council meeting was consumed by the issue of the junk yard on Highway One. Many residents are dismayed that one of the main entrances to the City passes by this unsightly location. This issue had been long standing and dates to 1985. Nothing so far has been successful in removing this eyesore to one of the main entrances to the City. County Councilman Scott Singer has worked with County Council and South Carolina Department of Transportation with help from Senator Greg Ryberg in an effort to more effectively resolve this issue. Their recommendation is to build a fence to screen the property from public view. If the owner parks vehicles on the highway side of the fence, SCOT will enforce existing law by imposing daily fines until the law is followed. Funding for the fence would be a joint effort by both the County Council and City Council and approximate $50,000 each. While everyone wants this issue resolved, there was little consensus by the Council on action. Concern was raised about the cost of the fence, the ability and willingness of authorities to enforce the law, and public support of our efforts. At Monday’s City Council meeting we will consider a resolution supporting the County’s efforts to deal with this issue.
FISCAL YEAR 2007-2008 AUDIT OF CITY FINANCES – The firm of ElliottDavis was selected by bid process to perform an audit of city finances for the past fiscal year. We briefly reviewed their report at last Council meeting and will give final approval at Monday night’s meeting. The firm concluded that the City of Aiken is properly managing funds collected and spent. They identified no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies relating to the audit of the financial statement and no instances of noncompliance material to the financial statements. While audit reports can be dry reading, they do reveal significant findings. For example, the City has a 98.07% collection percentage for real and personal property taxes. The City has no outstanding general obligation debt. Our revenue sources are:
Charges for Services 47.74%
Property Taxes 18.08%
Business Taxes 11.61%
Capital Project Sales Taxes 9.87%
Unrestricted Investment Earnings 6.67%
Operating Grants 3.04%
Capital Grants 2.41%
Accommodations Taxes 1.43%
Our Government-Wide Expenses include:
Water & Sewer 29.77%
Public Safety 26.12%
General Government 12.00%
Recreation & Parks 10.56%
Public Works 9.16%
Economic Development 3.14%
Storm Water 1.09%
Debt Service Interest 0.18%
Most of the City revenue from the previous year is from growth in property taxes from new resident and from business licenses. Major expenditures include over $300,000 in planning and traffic studies and over $5,000,000 in benefits and insurance. Despite a 5% increase in water and sewer rates last year, only one city in South Carolina has lower rates than Aiken. We exceeded expenditures over budget in the Aiken Community Playhouse Fund ($5,099). Community Development Block Grant Fund ($57,008) and Local Accommodations Tax Fund ($59,671). In every other case, our budgeted amounts exceeded what we spent. The Aiken Corporation owes the city $2,670,035 for several loans in past years. Some of this money will be collected when property is sold and the Aiken Corporation has been making satisfactory progress in repaying loans. Overall, the City is handling your money well and in accordance with acceptable accounting standards. The City Manager recognized our current economic climate and will act accordingly in controlling expenses during the year.
CLOSURE OF UNOPENED PORTION OF COKER SPRINGS ROAD – The Hitchcock Woods Foundation in a friendly suit sued the City to close a portion of Coker Springs Road between Newberry Street and Laurens Street. Adjacent property owners have been notified.Since this section of roadway has never been opened in the past as a public roadway the ordinance is expected to pass first reading on Monday.
Posted by Dick Dewar