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County Council Votes to Take First Steps Toward Jail Expansion

Daniel Prince

Council sets tax levy, passes comprehensive plan at meeting

Nearly three and a half months after the fiscal year began, Union County Council passed a resolution to set the tax levy for the current fiscal year. The property tax millage will increase by two mills to 168.9 mills total. Council vice-chair Ben Ivey said that according to Union County Auditor Brad Valentine, the local option sales tax is generating enough money currently to offset the increase. The taxes go to fund the county government, Veterans Park, county bonds, capital expenditures, capital equipment purchases, economic development, Union County Library System, higher education, Union County EMS, and the Spartanburg Community College-Union Campus. The resolution also set the tax levy for the various county fire districts. The tax levy resolution passed unanimously.

Union County Council took the final step to bring the county into compliance with a 1994 state law by passing final reading of the Union County Comprehensive Plan. The ten-year plan has been described as a road map to show Union County where to go in the next ten years. The document can guide future plans and projects by the county and shows potential grant partners that the county has a plan for its future. County Council unanimously passed the third reading of the ordinance. The Union County Planning Commission will be meeting monthly to discuss different ways to implement the plan, and it will be responsible for reviewing and updating the plan on the state’s prescribed schedule.

In other news at the meeting, Union County Council officially recognized the Union Dixie Boys World Series team. The team finished second at the World Series this summer. COVID issues prevented them from attending last month’s meeting.

Kevin Wimberly with SC UpLift Community Outreach addressed council and told them that his group, with help from i58 and Suite 65 LLC, will be presenting the Older Adults’ Home Modification Program. The program is funded in Chester, Fairfield, and Union counties by a $1 million grant. They can do up to $5000 in low-cost modifications to seniors’ homes, including things like installing lever-handle doorknobs and faucets, grab bars, anti-slip strips for tubs and showers, railings, and more. The goal is to allow those older adults to safely stay in their homes. To qualify, you must be at least 62 years old, own your residence, and meet income restrictions, which is up to 80% of the county’s median income.

Neil McKeown with the Union County Detention Center told council the jail received an $89,000 grant from the SC Department of Public Safety for personal protective equipment for officers and inmates. He then asked council for permission to enter into an agreement with an engineering firm to get the engineering price and bid packets for a proposed new addition to the jail. Money to contract with the engineering firm would come from American Rescue Plan Act funds. He stated this is the preliminary work that will allow them to know about how much the project should cost when it goes out to bid.

There are two proposals for the expansion. One is a single-floor addition that would add 16 cells with room for 32 inmates. A second proposal is for a two-story addition that would add 32 cells with room for 64 inmates. McKeown said the jail currently is operating at capacity most days, and some days, they have more than 100 inmates in the facility that is designed to accommodate only 62. Sometimes, inmates have to be housed in other counties, and that costs the county additional money. He stated the expansion would allow for quarantining sick inmates, separating certain inmates from one another, and allow for better observation of inmates. He also said current inmates could be moved to the expansion so needed work could be done to the older part of the facility. He stated the cells would be prefabricated, which would speed up construction time. Including the engineering and design process and construction time, he said the earliest everything could be ready would be two years. Council voted unanimously to allow the county to move forward with contracting with an engineering firm.

Council also voted unanimously to refer the proposed county burn ordinance to the planning and development committee, chaired by Dr. John Flood. That committee would discuss the ordinance, fine-tune it, and then bring it back to the full council for final approval. The ordinance has already passed the first two readings.

We’ll have more from the meeting in tomorrow’s newscast.

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