Chasity Pearson sworn in as newest council member
Tuesday’s meeting of Union City Council began with a joint public hearing with the City Planning Commission to hear comments regarding the proposed rezoning of property at 735 Thompson Boulevard. Robert Small owns the property and requested the rezoning from Residential R-10 to Business A-2 Highway Commercial. Small hopes to use the location for self-storage units and possibly multifamily housing units in the future. No comments were heard. In the meeting, Union City Council unanimously voted to approve the rezoning request.
At the beginning of the meeting, the newest City Council member, Chasity Pearson, took her oath of office and took her seat with her fellow council members.
John Kingsmore was presented with a retirement award for 26 years of service with the Wastewater Division. He thanked council for their support of him and his department through the years. Six employees were recognized for December work anniversaries. Leroy Edwards with shop maintenance celebrates 35 years of service. Sara Beth Gregory, tax coordinator, had her 32-year anniversary. Maxie Sanders has spent 23 years with the gas department. John Patterson with the wastewater department has 19 years of service under his belt. Dean Allen and Michael Gregory, both with Union Public Safety, were recognized for 15 years of service.
City Council voted unanimously to approve first reading of an ordinance to amend the city’s zoning ordinance to expand the separation distance regarding the location of body piercing, tattooing, and other disfiguring processes. The current zoning ordinance allows such businesses to be located within 600 feet of a residential area, church, school, library, park, or other such type of place. The problem is that state law requires such businesses to have 1000 feet of separation from those types of places. As tattoo and piercing parlors are regulated and permitted by DHEC, they would not be able to issue a permit for such a business based on the current zoning ordinance in the city. The proposed change would bring the city’s zoning ordinance into compliance with the state law.
Council also unanimously voted on first reading to establish a natural gas transportation program. Appearing by phone due to illness, City Administrator Joe Nichols explained that some companies like to purchase their own natural gas when they can do so at prices lower than the city is able to, and they have asked that the city offer a rate solely for transporting the gas to their facilities. Nichols said the current industrial gas rate includes the cost of gas and a transport fee. By charging such users just the transport fee, the program would be revenue neutral to the city’s utility department. Establishing a transportation program would eliminate the need for independent agreements with each industry wanting to purchase their own gas. A public hearing will be held prior to the January 18 City Council meeting to solicit public comment on the matter prior to the second reading by council.
Council voted to reappoint AC Martin to the Board of Building Appeals. He was the only one to apply for one of the vacant positions on the Board of Zoning Appeals or Board of Building Appeals. The city will readvertise the open board positions and hope to have applicants to fill the positions by its next meeting.
Finance Director Laura Hembree brought two more uses of American Rescue Plan Act funds to the council. She said certain gas customers in Spartanburg and Pacolet qualify for utility credits under the act based on their poverty levels. She proposed enacting an application process by which they could apply for the two $50 utility credits that city customers will be seeing in their January and February bills. She also proposed an application process for credits to commercial bills by businesses getting utility service from the city. They would have to put in an application showing economic impact and would automatically qualify once the application is made. She proposed two $200 credits for commercial customers. Council approved the proposals unanimously.
The final item of business was to approve the city’s Community Change program for another year. It offers heating and cooling assistance to customers once each season, with current help offered at $50 per season or a total of $100 per year. The program is funded through customers rounding up their utility bills to the next dollar, and the money going into the program. Salvation Army and Carolina Community Actions currently qualify people to receive the funding, and they have offered to continue. Other groups can do that, as well, by submitting a letter on their letterhead stating their willingness to qualify people for the program based on their criteria. In fiscal year 2021, the program generated $19,535 and helped 126 customers with a total of around $6040. Hembree said CCA and other places have received COVID money which has helped customers in need far more than the Community Change program could, so there were not as many asking for the program’s assistance. Currently, around 36% of city utility customers participate in the voluntary program. Anyone receiving assistance must take part in the program and must be a part of it for at least six months before receiving help. She stated that since the program is beginning to build its balance back, the assistance level could go back up to $100 per season and a $200 total once the new fiscal year starts in July. Council unanimously voted to continue with heating and cooling assistance for another year.
Council held a brief executive session for a personnel matter. No action was taken following the session.