Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon Pension

Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon listens to pension attorney Warner Anthony during a City Council work session Nov. 20. The City Council will again discuss, and possibly pass, pension amendments Jan. 8

Aiken City Council has a busy Monday night ahead of itself.

City Council meets Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. for a regularly scheduled meeting. An executive session – regarding the Aiken Mall, according to City documents – will be held prior, starting at 5 p.m.

City Council meets at the Municipal Building, 214 Park Ave. S.W.

Hitchcock Woods stormwater

The first major topic on Council's plate Jan. 8 is a decision whether or not to fund the Hitchcock Woods stormwater project.

Ongoing stormwater and erosion issues have plagued the iconic woods for decades, leaving portions of the reserve disfigured and under future threat.

The Aiken City Council agenda, including all supporting documents.

In July 2016, Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon assembled the Hitchcock Woods Stormwater Task Force, comprising then-Council members Steve Homoki and Reggie Ebner; a handful of citizens; and members of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation.

In December 2016, the City contracted McCormick Taylor to create and implement damage mitigation plans in and around the Sand River Basin.

In October 2017, McCormick Taylor issued their study and myriad solutions. Answers – or at least mitigators – include dry detention ponds and underground detention areas in at least 20 locations. A letter from the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, dated Nov. 8, 2017, confirms the group is on board with the study.

The City currently has $5.2 million to spend on the first phase of mitigation, according to City Council documents. Project funds come from the capital sales tax.

City employee pension plans

City Council has, for several months now, discussed amending the City's pension plan. A defined contribution plan – a plan very similar to a 401(k) – was introduced to Council and then workshopped during two public sessions.

Included in those sessions were City pension attorney Warner Anthony and actuary Ben Upchurch.

The City currently offers a defined benefits plan, something City Manager John Klimm has described as exceedingly rare in the public sector. The new policy would only affect new hires after July 1, 2018 if passed.

Klimm has also said the potential change is not coming because of financial stress – just the opposite.

"We're doing this because we're supportive of proper financial planning," Klimm said in November, adding that the current plan is "extraordinarily generous."

Based on discussion during the most recent pension workshop, the defined contribution plan would be made available to full-time employees after one year of work. It would require employees to contribute 6 percent of their pre-tax salary. The City would match. Eligible employees would begin contributing to their plan in 2019.

Warner, in November, said 12 percent is the magic savings number. Upchurch said the 50-50 split is "very much" a widely accepted best practice.

Land for sale along Wire Road

Before the new year, City Council discussed purchasing 2.23 acres of land south of Rudy Mason Parkway and north of Wire Road. The land is adjacent to the future Aiken Department of Public Safety headquarters.

At the Council's final meeting of 2017, the purchase decision was tabled. Osbon, in a follow-up interview, said the Council simply needed more time. Since then, the agenda item has been revived and will be discussed Monday night, according to Council documents.

Klimm and Aiken Public Safety Chief Charles Barranco have both said the land – which would be purchased for $5,900, a price that required negotiating, as the landowner's first proposal was $17,000 – could be useful to the public safety department.

Examples of future use include running or training trails and space for communications equipment, according to both Osbon and Barranco.

Aiken Mall redevelopment

On Monday night, City Council will debate, and possibly decide on, spending $1 million on property at the Aiken Mall. The property will be used for a park, according to City and Aiken County documents.

The money would be reimbursed, according to Council documents. Money for the purchase comes from economic reinvestment funds, $200,000; transportation and public safety funds, $400,000; and hospitality tax funds, $400,000, according to Council documents.

To spend the money, City Council will have to enter a memorandum of understanding with the county and SE Aiken LLC, a Southeastern Development affiliated group.

Northside Park annexations

According to Council documents, Osbon has asked City Council to "consider annexation" of an area near Crosland Park and Duke Drive. Also up for annexation Monday night is the 103 acres known as Northside Park, a project still in progress.

City Groundbreaking Northside Park

Aiken leaders break ground on Phase 1 of the new Northside Park in November.

Osbon has also requested the area be zoned as residential.

The annexation would open the area to public safety service and accident response. The Planning Commission must review the decision before it becomes final.

Colin Demarest is a reporter with Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since November 2017. He is a New Jersey native and received his B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of South Carolina. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin