After objections from Laurens County Council Vice-Chairman Joe Wood, council members decided Tuesday to forego a plan to build a $1.375 million solid waste transfer station.
County Purchasing Director Billy Wilson and Solid Waste and Recycling Manager Chris Gurga asked council to accept a bid from Sossaman Construction in Gaffney, but Wood, a retired professional contractor who had asked to review the plans, said the plans were not detailed enough for the county to know what it is getting for its money.
“This building needs to be safe and usable for many years,” Wood said. “In my opinion, this is not ready to bid. What we have here is a concept.”
Wilson said the county has worked with Sossaman Construction in the past, and he was confident in the company’s ability to deliver the design-build project.
Instead, staff will start over on the project from square one after being advised to hire a structural engineer, acquire a design and then bid out the project again. In a design-build agreement, the contractor would have taken care of design, permitting and construction for the entire project.
The county decided to build a transfer station after a contract for solid waste removal with a private firm ended this past December and was not renewed. The Solid Waste and Recycling Department is currently carrying waste to Twin Chimney in Greenville County, which it will continue to do after the transfer station is built.
But Gurga told council members that doing so is putting stress on equipment and workers. The extra mileage on trucks and additional time needed to get to and from Twin Chimney could be come untenable.
“It’s a miracle we’ve been able to keep up,” he said.
Fire services budget approved, final budget vote Thursday
The Laurens County budget process is expected to draw to a close this week as council members put their final stamps on the 2019-20 budgets.
At Tuesday night’s regular meeting, council was expected to hold third and final reading of the county’s fire services budget for the next fiscal year. The proposed $3,000,080 fire services budget is a special purpose tax district and separate from the county’s general fund budget.
“I expect that to be approved,” said Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime. “It’s largely the same as lsat year’s.”
Council was also to vote an annual renewal of the Local Option Sales Tax, which lowers property tax bills, while supplying up to 29% of collected money to the county’s general fund. That results in about $800,000 annually into county coffers.
Council members are scheduled to meet again at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to approve the 2019-20 budget for the county. Spending is up 2.4% – about $800,000 – than the 2018-19 budget, but requires no tax increase. The overall budget is up about 5.4% from the $23 million of 2018-19.
Caime said increased revenues have made up the difference between the two budgets.
He said about half the budget has been approved by council by consent votes because the funding from department to department has remained constant from this past budget to this one.
“A lot of this is because our team has been conservative and have done things more efficiently,” Caime said. “All the credit goes to them. They’ve been able to hold the line on spending.”
Caime said the county has been able to replenish its reserve funds, which had dipped below 10% following the last economic recession, back to 25% now.
Since taking over in 2016, Caime has revamped the county’s budget process, breaking out county EMS into its own tax district, which will require a 2-mil increase for 2019-20.
“EMS is the last piece of the puzzle,” Caime said. “EMS has been broken.”
He said EMS has been operating at a deficit of about $100,000 for the past decade or more, borrowing from the general fund each year.
Caime said EMS Director Matt Pennington and his officers have been able to create savings with efficiencies. Over the past year, EMS has started a non-emergent transport service that operates to generate funds for the agency.
The additional two mils on top of the 7.3 mils charged to taxpayers will go to capital purchases for EMS.
Caime said many of the county’s ambulances and necessary equipment such as heart monitors have aged well past their normal usage and need to be replaced. The extra millage is expected to at least partially fund an estimated $1 million in needed equipment.
EMS transport policy changed
Council members voted 6-0 to accept a committee recommendation to no longer allow transport patients to automatically choose which hospital they will be taken to unless it is justified by needed medical treatment.
Otherwise, the patient will be taken to the nearest hospital or medical facility. For instance, a patient in Cross Hill or Waterloo could go to Self while a patient in Fountain Inn could go to Simpsonville.
Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime said the updated policy could save the county as much as $100,000 per year and stop undue burdens on employees and equipment.
Councilman Jeff Carroll, who is also Spartanburg County’s EMS Director, said the new rule just makes sense.
“It makes no sense to send our resources 40 minutes out of the county for a laceration,” Carroll said. “This will not keep patients from getting the care they need, and it makes us better stewards of the resources we have in the county.”