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County council declares state of emergency

Members of the Laurens County Council met by telephone Tuesday and declared a state of emergency for Laurens County in reaction to the threat of the novel coronavirus.

The cities of Laurens and Clinton had made similar moves in order to gain potential access to relief funds from the state and U.S. governments.

County Attorney Sandy Cruickshanks said a consensus among attorneys recommended the action be taken by Laurens and other counties across the state.

“Under home rule, it’s the opinion of attorneys that this is necessary,” Cruickshanks said. “Though it may be redundant (given the state of emergency declaration from the state), it’s not harmful for the county to do this.”

Under the state of emergency, County Administrator Jon Caime has more power to run the county.

The 4-0 telephone vote from council members Brown Patterson, Chairman David Pitts, Diane Anderson and Kemp Younts enacted the first of three ordinances voted on by council. Vice Chairman Joe Wood, Garrett McDaniel and Jeff Carroll were unable to attend the meeting by phone.

Another ordinance gave council leeway to hold remote meetings such as the conference call Tuesday in order to conduct county business. That ordinance is set to expire after 60 days, but can be extended or shortened as needed, Cruickshanks said.

Caime praised the county staff and employees who have worked hard to ensure the local government continues to operate.

“The continuity of operations has been a constant Whack-a-Mole situation,” Caime said. “This is very fast-moving, but I’m extremely proud of all of our employees and our constitutional officers. They’ve all gone above and beyond the call of duty during this.”

As South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order limiting gatherings to three people or fewer, Caime said the county is considering shutting down county parks, but has refrained from doing so thus far.

Parks such as Falls Park in Greenville have become gathering places for people who have been asked to “socially distance” themselves.

“I haven’t wanted to do that unilaterally,” Caime said of the parks closures.

In addition to the two ordinances dealing with the impact of the coronavirus, council members also voted 4-0 to approve the transfer of a fees-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement from a former Laurens County industry to a new one that is to take over the former company’s property.

Cruickshanks said the new company is making an initial $7.5 million dollar investment that will bring 41 new jobs to the county.

The identity of new company, which Cruickshanks said is foreign, was not revealed.

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