A group of seven mayors met for an informal lunch at Upper Savannah COG Thursday to discuss common issues and learn about funding programs that can help their communities.
USCOG has hosted town and county clerks and also city, town and county administrators for informal lunches over the years. This was the first such meeting for mayors.
The mayors of Clinton, Waterloo, Lowndesville, McCormick, Edgefield, Saluda and Gray Court attended.
The mayors learned that Abbeville, Greenwood, Laurens and McCormick counties and their municipalities are eligible to apply for funding in the new Growing Rural Communities Grant Program.
Recently launched by the S.C. Department of Commerce, the program is designed to support community growth and prosperity by providing funding for programs that enhance economic development, improve infrastructure, and promote quality of life in rural areas.
A community project identification process must be completed prior to grant approval by contacting contact Peggy McLean at pmclean@SCcommerce.com. A group of 10-15 people per community will be selected for interviews to discuss potential projects, USCOG Government Services Director Green told the mayors.
The mayors also discussed funding that is available for environmental assessments of brownfields sites across South Carolina, enabling for the possible redevelopment of properties that might have contaminants such as asbestos, lead-based paint, oil or other chemicals.
The Upper Savannah Region has received a total of $73,446 to use for projects over a two-year period ending September 2024. A brownfields site is a former industrial or commercial site where future use is affected by real or perceived environmental contamination.
The site of environmental testing must be owned by a city, town or county, or be supported by a municipality for possible redevelopment. A private entity may apply for funding if supported by their municipality or county. A letter of support will be required from the administrator or council chair.
Examples of sites that might be redeveloped after environmental testing for contaminants include old gas stations, automobile repair shops, car dealerships, textile mills, laundrymats, etc.
A Phase I environmental site assessment averages around $3,500. Green said three projects in the region have already been submitted: the old McCormick County Administration Building where there are plans to develop apartments and office space, and two old mill sites in the City of Clinton where housing developments are being considered at both sites.
The mayors of Edgefield and Saluda both mentioned sites of interest in their towns that are potential brownfields projects.
Several common issues were discussed, including how to fund housing rehabilitation needs in their communities where many residents cannot afford to fix problems such as roofs and windows.
Mayors discussed incentive programs that their communities are offering to their merchants to improve the condition of their buildings.
Also discussed were salary increases that have been put in the S.C. budget for state law enforcement officers, making it difficult for local police and sheriff’s offices to make their salaries competitive. One mayor wishes local communities could get more law enforcement funding also.
“It is going to be difficult to keep officers if they can make more money” as a state trooper, one mayor said.