City Council held a ribbon cutting Wednesday for improvements made to Wise Street Park, located at 2420 Holloway Street in Newberry.

Mayor Foster Senn thanked the community for their support and for being at the ribbon cutting.

Parks Recreation and Tourism Director Scott Sawyer said the improvements made to the park had been long overdue.

While there have been improvements made to the park here and there over the years, Sawyer said some of the most recent improvements included a new picnic shelter, a quarter-mile walking trail and new public restroom facility.

The restroom facility was completed through a Parks and Recreation Development (PARD) grant, while the walking trail was due to a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant – both through South Carolina Parks Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT).

Sawyer introduced Neil Hamilton with SCPRT who has worked with the city throughout the process.

“When we first received the application, I could feel that it was an important project,” Hamilton said. “It’s competitive to get a recreational trails program grant, so that says a lot about this project. It looks great and we hope everyone enjoys it.”

The next phase of improvements to the park, Sawyer said, they hoped to obtain funding from a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, funds had not yet been awarded. That grant would be for improvements to be made to the park’s basketball courts, playground equipment, a community garden added and a few other potential items.

City Councilman Carlton Kinard represents District 3 in the City of Newberry, which includes Wise Street Park. Kinard said he and the community were excited to see the improvements come to the park.

“I always say it takes a village,” he said. “Growing up in this park, whether it was playing baseball or just coming to the park to play on the playground, we knew it took a village. We want to make sure that that village stays strong, and we look forward to working hard to make that happen.”

Sarah Eargle with Newberry County First Steps spoke Wednesday on behalf of the StoryWalk that park visitors may notice along the new walking trail. The StoryWalk allows for taking the pages of a book apart, placing them at designated locations along the trail so as visitors are walking along, they’re reading a story.

“It’s a great literacy opportunity, it’s a lot of fun and an outdoor activity that families can do together,” she said.

An additional StoryWalk can be found in downtown Newberry.

What makes the StoryWalk at Wise Street Park unique is an element added by Hugh Gray and staff at Westview Behavioral Center.

“As you’re taking kids around the StoryWalk, you’re reading a story and building their literacy skills, academic achievement and their connection to school,” he said. “Having it in a great park like this, you’re also building their connection to community. Spending time as a family also builds that connection as a family.”

Gray said for those that may be bringing older children to the park, a “Level Up” element was added to the StoryWalk stops and includes a physical challenge or dare at each station.

“They might do pushups, sit-ups or even a two-mile run,” he said.

City Manager Matt DeWitt said the Parks, Recreation and Tourism department brought together some great organizations to make the walking trail and other improvements a reality.

“The upgrades they’ve made to parks around the city have been truly impressive and something our citizens can be proud of,” DeWitt said.

Still to come as part of the current improvements phase are park benches, which will be placed approximately every 200 feet on the trail. Sawyer said the benches had arrived and would be placed along the trail as soon as possible. Electricity will also be run to the picnic shelter to allow for ceiling fans to be installed.  

Newberry City Council met Wednesday, May 5 in a work session to discuss the Utility Fund budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022. City Manager Matt DeWitt and Utility Director Tim Baker presented the budget.

Baker said the total estimated utility gross revenues for the upcoming fiscal year were $37,843,774, which were a slight decrease compared to last year at $37,848,764.

“We tried to budget conservatively,” he said.

A continuation of a two percent meter minimum on both water and sewer charges are proposed in the upcoming budget, as well as a volumetric increase of 2.5 percent and 1.25 percent for both water and sewer respectively. Baker said these increases were to offset the additional debt capacity needed to fund the 2015 series bonds and were recommended by the city’s rate consultants.

The average inside city residential customer will see a total increase of $1.69 per month, Baker said, based on a 5/8” meter and 776 cubic feet in water and sewer consumption.

“Anytime you ask for an increase it’s a difficult thing, especially in this environment, so I think it’s important to stress that we did look at numerous scenarios to come up with the one we thought would be least impactful to our customer base,” he said.

The line item of debt service is proposed to decrease next year by $38,489 to $3,883,493. Baker said this was due to being able to refinance the 2009 bonds at a lower interest rate.

“This is another way we may be able to keep our rates as low as possible,” he said.

Under Utility Administration, Baker said the division, totaling $666,004 was proposed to decrease $35,288 relative to last year. In this line item, he proposed to council assistance for a call center in their department that would give customers the option to report an outage through an IVR system if they would prefer not to speak to a “live” person.

Whenever the department experiences an outage, Baker said it was almost impossible to give customers the service they deserved as they were not staffed to answer every call as they came in simultaneously.

“We want to enhance the customer experience,” he said.

The Water Production division, totaling $1,324,344 is proposed to increase $68,185 relative to the prior year. Baker said the increases primarily come from tank maintenance contracts to the College Street water tank.

Baker said the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) requires the interior and exterior of water tanks to be painted on a regular basis. However, the tank on College Street is currently past due because of a larger industries’ need of increased water consumption.

“We could not take that tank offline to do that maintenance,” he said.

With the city’s newest water tank on Airport Road soon to come online, Baker said the needed maintenance to the tank on College Street would be able to be completed.

The Utility Administration Capital Expenditures are projected to total $749,900, which is an increase of $383,150 relative to last year. Baker said the increase came from delaying projects last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Baker said one of the projects under this line item included the replacement of city computers. While most computers are only good for about a three-year cycle, one of the main reasons being because of their warranty, Baker said the city was currently on their fourth year of the same computers.

“We were able to just extend our warranty by one year,” he said. “However, we predict needing to replace those next year.”

At the utility department’s warehouse, Baker said they plan to put a modular structure for several offices as the department has grown and needs a little more office space.

A vehicle replacement for the Information Technologies sector is also planned. Currently the department uses an older Crown Victoria, which baker said would soon be in need of more repairs.

Electric System Capital is projected to decrease $190,000 relative to the prior year, which Baker said was due to the department purchases an electric bucket truck in the current fiscal year.

The Water System Capital, totaling $1,155,000 is recommended to increase $682,000 relative to last year. The increase comes from delaying projects last year due to the pandemic as well, Baker said.

However, a significant project under this line item is the replacement of the water line on Main Street.

Earlier this winter, Baker said crews went in and dug up and repaired sewer taps as contractors completed the full depth patching on Main Street.

“We knew that we were going to have to come back and address the water line in this area but didn’t want to do all of that in one clip” he said.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is scheduled to repave Main Street in the spring of 2022, and the concern Baker said his department has is when the road is being repaired and as heavy machinery drives over it, that it could lead to issues in the future.

Completing the replacement now could potentially prevent the road having to be opened back up after it has been completely repaved.

One thing they were looking at, Baker said was trying to move the water line from underneath Main Street to the shoulder of the road and abandoning the current line. This would potentially take place on Main Street from the intersection of Wilson Road and stop prior to entering the downtown historic district.

Baker said they tried to pick a timeframe of repair that would be least impactful to the city’s businesses and residents – starting right after the new year and have work completed in the spring. He said they couldn’t do the work at night because it was in a residential area and would cost the city twice as much money.

“I recommend that we start and have everything designed and engineered, bid, with a start date right after January, if this is what you [council] want to do,” he said.

The first reading of the budget will be conducted by City Council on Tuesday, June 8 at 7 p.m.

City Council approved a request from Mayor Foster Senn to protest the alcohol license at 1430 Drayton Street in Newberry on Wednesday prior to their second budget work session.

The address is associated with a convenience store in the West End community.

Over the years, especially in recent years, Senn said there had been many calls to the police for crime to include gunshots in the parking lot as well as customers in the store that regularly bought alcohol, taking it across the street to drink it in Willowbrook Park.

“This resulted in less families being able to go to the park,” Senn said.

At a hearing in Columbia in March, Senn said the store’s request to obtain their alcohol license was denied. Members of the West End community protested at the hearing and the judge denied the request, with some of the reasoning being that the store was across the street from a city park.

“The owner of 1430 Drayton Street has applied again for an alcohol license and I’m told they can continue to apply as they go forward, despite the first rejection,” Senn said.

Those wishing to protest the application must file in writing by May 13, 2021 and agree to testify at an in-person hearing in Columbia, to which Senn said he believed the city should protest the application as the activity around the store had been a problem for residents, the neighborhood, the police department and the city.

City Attorney Robert Lake and Eric Budds with the Municipal Association of South Carolina told Senn an elected official must gain approval from city council in order to protest on behalf of a city or town.

“I am requesting permission to protest the alcohol permit on behalf of the city,” Senn said to council.

With a motion by Councilman Edwin Wicker and a second by Councilwoman Jackie Holmes, the request was approved.

Senn said he would write and file a letter, to be approved by Lake. A report of the Newberry Police Department’s calls for service throughout the years to that location will also be filed as part of the protest. Senn said he understood other members of the West End community have also protested again and he assumed there would be a hearing within the next few weeks.

While the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were both difficult and trying, the City of Newberry managed a successful fiscal year 2021, City Manager Matt DeWitt told council.

DeWitt presented the city’s budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022 on Tuesday and Wednesday and said that while balancing the proposed budget was challenging, the city managed a successful year due-in-part to employees and businesses being creative and courageous despite the difficult hand they were dealt.

“We were optimistic, but also very conservative with this year’s budget,” he said.

The City of Newberry’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is balanced without any increases in taxes or business license fees.

The proposed general fund budget discussed by council was balanced at $14,399,537, an increase of $4,780,159, or 49.7 percent, compared to last year. DeWitt said there had been no city millage increase in over 10 years and for that reason, council may choose to explore possible outstanding annexation agreements that may be both viable and beneficial.

“City staff will present findings on annexation opportunities in the coming year for council to consider,” he said.

The general fund revenues, DeWitt said are projected to be $14,399,537 which represents an increase of $4,780,159 over the current year’s projections.

“Fiscal year 2021 projects were very conservative due to not being sure how it would be effected by Covid,” he said. “We do have revenues to cover the increases, and we feel good about our projections.”

DeWitt said it was important to note that any County Transportation Committee funds not secured by staff will not be spent by the city. This is currently projected at $325,000 in the current budget. All capital has also been kept to a minimum in the proposed budget, he said to rebuild the city’s savings accounts after taking a hit in the current fiscal year.

Another decrease of $100,000 in court fines is scheduled in the coming year as the line item has continued to trend very low the last few years and DeWitt said city staff felt it was unreasonable to continue to budget for revenue that would not be realized by the courts by year’s end.

The Utility Fund transfer, DeWitt said would remain flat again this year at $1,865,909 and had remained at that level for the ninth straight year.

General Fund Expenditures

The total expenditures in the general fund next year are projected to be $10,670,526 as compared to $9,605,107 in fiscal year 2021.

Under the line item of City Council, DeWitt said there was an increase in spending of $23,680 from prior year. Much of this increase is related to a potential message board sign that staff would like to secure heading into the city’s downtown historic district, possibly replacing the old Main Street banner system.

The city used to have a banner system that would allow banners to hang over Main Street to announce different things going on in the downtown area. However, DeWitt said that had to be taken down years ago due to termites compromising the poles and the strain it had put on city utility crews to send bucket trucks to put up and take down banners.

The sign is a concept that could potentially bring something back to allow visitors and residents to know what was going on downtown.

“The downtown merchants are really passionate about having something outside of downtown to bring people into downtown,” he said.

The potential location of the sign would be just before Main Street turns back to one lane. DeWitt said the area was a Duke right-of-way.

Under the line item of City Manager, the budget is proposed to increase by $27,038, partially attributable to a ReSimplifi agreement. DeWitt said that was a tool on the city’s website that aggregates all available business property onto a single page, telling those that are looking at Newberry from the outside, what business properties were currently available.

“That’s a system that we feel like, especially during the pandemic, while people are possibly leaving bigger areas to come to smaller metropolitan areas, that we may be a good fit for some folks,” he said. “We think keeping ReSimplifi on is a good way to make sure that we’re showcasing what we have available.”

The Planning and Development Services budget is planned to decrease by $74,899 next year. DeWitt said due to project timing, the city again had to budget for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) demolition project the city is implementing.

“This grant is reimbursable to the city up to the $475,000 minus the city’s 10 percent match,” DeWitt said.

Other savings under this line item can be attributed to a department head’s retirement towards the end of the current fiscal year.

The police department budget, totaling $1,842,332 is proposed to increase by $176,325 over the prior year, as the city has continued to budget local residency stipends and their sign on bonus program to help attract already certified officers to the city’s department.

DeWitt said the city was partnering with Enterprise this year to pilot a new attempt at managing fleet vehicles.

“If the pilot is successful, then Enterprise fleet management may be a viable option for fleet management for the city moving forward,” he said.

This year the city will lease five police cars from Enterprise in order to pilot this program.

Under the fire department line item, the budget is projected to be $1,286,974, an increase of $91,999 over the current year’s budget. This increase is reflective of the need for a new roof on Station 21 and work to be completed on the fire training grounds.

City staff that oversees fire recruitment county-wide is half budgeted under this line item as the county has agreed to continue to pay the other half of the position’s salary and benefits and provide the position’s transportation.

The line item of Public Works Administration is proposed to increase next year by $80,106 when compared to the current year. This increase is mainly attributable to updates and additional computer programs for Fuel Master upgrades, CityWorks Fleet implementation and access controls for facility security.

DeWitt said each year, they were slowly implementing access control to various city department facilities as they had been beneficial at City Hall and elsewhere around the city.

The Public Works Sanitation department’s overall request has increased by $325,257, due to the need for purchasing a new automated sideloaded residential garbage truck.

Expenditures for the Parks, Recreation and Tourism department are projected to increase by $336,067, with the main fluctuation being the scheduled upgrades to Wise Street Park. DeWitt said the city hopes to receive a Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grant to reimburse these expenses, but the funds must be spent upfront, prior to reimbursement.

Under the line item of Employee Fringe Benefits, the proposed budget is anticipated to increase $206,579 from the current year, stemming from the city’s share of employee insurance rising to $190,000.

Debt Service will total $182,041 next year which will be a decrease of $70,512. This expenditure category is the account that pays for the city’s lease purchases.

The Special Funds line item of the State Accommodations Tax Fund is projected to experience an increase in revenue of $25,000 as compared to the prior year, for a total of $125,000. Of that amount, $30,000 will be transferred to the General Fund Revenue in accordance with State Statutes, $30,000 will be transferred to the Tourism Fund and the remaining $65,000 will be awarded to local groups to promote tourism through the local accommodations tax application in fiscal year 2022. This distribution formula, DeWitt said, is set for municipalities by the state of South Carolina.

Expenditures in the upcoming year for the Japanese Gardens fund are projected to be $5,000, more than doubling the normal yearly request. City staff will finish upgrades to the pond system prior to the next fiscal year, DeWitt said. The added funds requested will be used for additional appropriate plantings and upgrades around the park’s grounds.

DeWitt said some individuals had come forward wishing to make donations of plants and some materials for the gardens for the city that would be very beneficial.

“We’re appreciative to the citizens that have reached out and offered to help us with the Japanese Gardens,” he said.

Mayor Foster Senn asked about the possibility of fish in the ponds to which DeWitt said there was money in the budget for goldfish for the ponds. Coy were not chosen as they can be temperamental to different temperatures and environments, he said.

In the Special Funds line item of the Local Hospitality and Accommodations Fund, the source of funding is the two percent tax levied on the sale of food and beverage and the three percent tax levied on lodging and accommodations in the city.

DeWitt said for the upcoming fiscal year, staff anticipated receiving approximately $849,844 or a $92,213 increase from prior year. This account shows an increase due to business trending positively following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The revenue received through the local hospitality and accommodations fund is transferred to other funds for promoting tourism. The proposed budget anticipates the following monies to be transferred to the following funds: the Newberry Opera House ($326,344), Parks Recreation and Tourism Special Events ($100,000) and the Firehouse Conference Center ($125,000) will receive the majority of these funds.

Under the line item of Streetscape Fund, which historically funds Main Street improvements, are expenditures proposed to decrease by $14,000. DeWitt said the budget proposed to bring back some of the city’s former façade grants. Four façade grants, with a maximum match of $9,000 each are proposed to be awarded in fiscal year 2022 for downtown Newberry.

The city’s Tourism Fund represents the budget for all City of Newberry marketing and promotion initiatives as well as the Firehouse Conference Center operations. Revenue in this line item is projected to be $251,515 with a decrease in expenses of $135,924 in the upcoming year. The main change is due to a debt service going away on the NFCC and the moving of advertising to another more appropriate budget line item.

The Parks Recreation and Tourism Special Events Fund provides revenue to support the various events the city provides each year. DeWitt said that next year, $174,150 will be available to host the planned events within the city. This account is projected to increase by $67,250 in the coming year, attributable to moving the city’s advertising expenses from the NFCC budget to this more appropriate place holder, as city advertising is mainly used to advertise the city’s various events throughout the state.

Under the line item of the Community Housing Development Fund, which allocates funding for special projects, the budget is projected to contain funding for continued development of Wise Street Park ($175,000) and continued support of the city’s relationship with Retail Strategies ($25,000).

The total budget for this fund is projected to be $300,454, or a decrease of $125,000 from the prior year. This is directly attributed to the finishing of the Newberry Recreation Complex’s components from the prior year, which were outlined in the city’s initial 2017 Capital Project Sales Tax request.

The Oakland Tennis Complex budget contains revenue projections of $102,721 in the upcoming year. On the expenditures side, personnel will consist of one tennis pro and several part-time interns from Newberry College, leading expenses at the tennis facility to cost $102,721 in fiscal year 2022. Newberry College will continue to fund this facility, DeWitt said at roughly $26,000 annually. Capital will consist of the resurfacing of courts in the upcoming fiscal year at $24,000.

The recreation complex budget for fiscal year 2022 is proposed to total $279,329, or a reduction of $684,055 from the previous year. This reduction is a direct reflection of wrapping up many of the park’s major projects in the current year.

DeWitt said there is half of an additional staff member requested in the recreation budget. As the complex nears full opening, part-time staff will be needed to be sure it is maintained and run effectively, ensuring a good experience is had by all visitors.

Proposed for the upcoming fiscal year is a three percent Cost of Living Adjustment for all employees at the request of City Council.

DeWitt thanked council for their consideration when reviewing the upcoming budget and said staff looked forward to the upcoming year with great anticipation of it being another exceptional year for the City of Newberry.

The first reading of the budget will be conducted by City Council on Tuesday, June 8 at 7 p.m.

The City of Newberry is partnering with Self Memorial Hospital to sponsor a walk-in vaccine clinic on Thursday, May 20.

The clinic will take place from 3:30-6:30 p.m. at the Newberry Firehouse Conference Center. It is open to the public, those ages 16 and older.

Pfizer will be offered at this particular clinic, which will require two doses. Those needing to receive a second dose, may receive it at this location if needed. However, they must bring their vaccination card to receive their second dose.

For those receiving their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, Self Memorial Hospital will schedule their second vaccination while on site.

The vaccine is provided at no cost, those participating just need to bring a photo ID. For any questions, please call 803-321-3646.