City focuses on Public Safety, Northside redevelopment

Staff photo by Maayan Schechter
The City of Aiken Utilities Director George Grinton updated City Council members including Reggie Ebner (left) and Lessie Price (right) about the City's stormwater issues during the first day of Council's Horizon Retreat. Horizons will continue at 8:30 a.m. today at Rye Patch located at 100 Berrie Road.
Staff photo by Maayan Schechter The City of Aiken Utilities Director George Grinton updated City Council members including Reggie Ebner (left) and Lessie Price (right) about the City's stormwater issues during the first day of Council's Horizon Retreat. Horizons will continue at 8:30 a.m. today at Rye Patch located at 100 Berrie Road.

Despite recent conversation at Aiken City Council meetings about whether the label of “public safety” is appropriate for the department, Chief Charles Barranco defended the label during the first of Council's two-day retreat, considering officers are certified in both law enforcement and fire safety.

Fact Box

Public Safety prorates:

- Burn Building for fire training

Engineering and Utilities Project Priorities:

- Silver Bluff Water Treatment Plant

- Shiloh Springs radium reduction

- Crosland Park sanitary sewer replacement

- New roof and HVAC for Smith-Hazel facility

- Underground electric wires in The Alley

- Safe routes to schools

- Chesterfield/Newberry Railroad storm water line replacement

- GEM Lake sanitary sewer, manholes and anaerobic protection

- Ascot/Springstone stormwater pipe repair

- Connector road to Aiken Mall at Murrah/Christie

- Bike paths on Hayne and Hampton

- Underground electric wires on Barnwell and South Boundary

- Connector from Pawnee/Neilson to Walmart

- Infrastructure assessment - water and sewer

- George's Pond/Whiskey Road storm water

- The Vale water system connection

- Laurens Street sanitary sewer lines rehab

- Industrial Park storm water outfall

- Airport taxiway and RW 1/19 maintenance

- Municipal Building renovation

- Hitchcock Woods Sand River study

Northside Redevelopment progress:

Edgewood

- In 2010 three homes pre-sold and constructed

- about 11 City owned lots

- Three lots identified as potential for immediate development

- In the process of hydrology review due to stormwater issues

Toole Hill

- Habit for Humanity purchased lot in 2012

- Community garden is growing

- Discussed lighting issues for “dark spots”

Governor Aiken Park

- Programs such as “Meet Your Neighbor Night”

- Stormwater issues are being addressed with installation of storm water pipes

- Lighting issues also discussed

Crosland Park

- Public Services repaired damaged roads due to tree roots, railings

- Three homes have been abated and demolished

- Held three open houses and one exclusive realtor open house

- Partnering with S.C. Housing in promotion for grant incentives

The 28th Annual Horizons meetings started on Friday at Rye Patch and staff updated Council on several issues, including storm water, City finances and major initiatives like the Northside Revitalization.

Barranco spoke passionately about why a public safety department is beneficial to the Aiken community.

“If you're familiar with traditional law enforcement, and simply to use an example, other than a fender bender, look at today's roadway issues or maybe you're providing some type of medical care ... Public Safety can do all of that when they arrive on scene,” Barranco said.

Public Safety officers can patrol the City of Aiken as law enforcement as usual, but in the event of a fire, an officer could help and support firemen while under command of the fire chief, assistant fire chief and captain.

Barranco said Public Safety is more than just a regular department and with that, it has an appropriate title.

“The focus is not just on the law enforcement side,” Barranco said. “It's also to direct traffic and provide basic first aid or first responder skills if needed. It's not just the fire department.”

Council talks budget projects and water revenue

Council and City staff talked most about the City's financial status. Councilman Reggie Ebner said the City's biggest headache is that big projects seems to be overstated by millions in the budget.

Council's budget for the fiscal year 2012-2013 was about $52 million, and about $51 million the year before.

“Our budget on the big items, not the little, but some big projects – we're overstating by millions. We're way below the $50 million of what we actually spend. Shouldn't we be a little closer?” Ebner said.

City of Aiken Finance Director Kim Abney told Council the dark spot of budget revenue lies within water and sewer fee revenue – revenue is not expected to meet the budget due to rainfall.

“We didn't meet our budget from last year, and we didn't start a whole lot better this year,” Abney countered.

Aiken's total water fee revenue in 2014 is expected to be about $6.8 million – a reduction from $7.3 million in 2013, according to a revenue analysis. Based on the fiscal year prior, water fee totals were budgeted for about $7.5 million, but actually came out to about $7.3 million in a six-month period. Sewer was budgeted for about $6.1 million and came out to roughly the same.

Aiken's water rate is the second lowest in the state, according to the City.

“A lot of other places had a rate increase, and the state average is 52 percent higher than Aiken,” Abney said. “Only Myrtle Beach has a lower rate than Aiken.”

Abney said water revenue is closely related to growth and, currently, consumption is down and rain is up.

Water loss may not result in lost revenue, according to Utilities Director George Grinton.

The City of Aiken Utilities and Engineering Department experienced a calculated water loss rate of 17 percent last year – a number Grinton said he wasn't sure could represent lost revenue.

About 16.9 million gallons of water is available for consumption per day, which could possibly rise to about 18.9 million gallons once the Silver Bluff plant is finally constructed.

“There's a possibility that some of the water loss was a phantom loss, but it's something we can do a better tracking of. It's something we need to investigate,” Grinton said.

Redevelopment caps off Friday session

Special Projects Coordinator Emory Langston reaffirmed the City's stance that since July, the Northside initiatives have really taken off.

“We're working hard to address issues and make progress and in the six months I've been working with the City, we've been working in the process of developing partnerships, rekindling partnerships and taking positive steps forward,” Langston said.

The Northside Revitalization's theme is health and wellness, and according to Langston, with the new Rural Health Services construction and Public Safety's Safe Communities, several neighborhood associations are happy with what they are seeing.

A main focus of the project has been to re-energize Crosland Park, which has 10 renovated homes for sale. The homes, dating back to the 1950s, were revamped and made more energy-efficient by the City in an effort to influence positive change.

Horizons will continue at 8:30 a.m. today at Rye Patch, located at 100 Berrie Road off Whiskey Road. The meeting is open to the public.

Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville.

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