EDITORIAL: Facing the hard truths
Thank you, State Rep. Mike Pitts. Thank you for leading us through what might be a look at Laurens County 2030, or even earlier.
The chairman of the Laurens County Legislative Delegation, Pitts said Thursday he has become concerned about water. Specifically, as Atlanta and Charlotte become mega-cities, and Greenville-Spartanburg gets squeezed, where is the water going to come from for all these people? Along with water, there are all the accompanying questions - where are they going to live, work, raise families, pay taxes? What kind of education are they going to want - public schools, private schools, charter schools, virtual schools, dual-enrollment high school-colleges - all are authorized through the South Carolina Department of Education.
And, looking specifically at education, the State Department is going to be relentless in insisting that every county in the state have one public school district. Pitts said he introduced a bill, which passed the House and was delayed in the Senate, to make that consolidation happen in Laurens County because that’s what state education officials want state legislators to do. He said he did not consult District 56 and 55 officials in advance because he knew they would be opposed.
He was right.
Not right to leave them unconsulted, but right that the districts feel they have a uniqueness that would be changed for the worse through ill-timed and ill-thought-out consolidation.
So, what next? Here is a small suggestion:
State Legislators should control what they can control. They should insist on a state budget that fully funds the Local Government Fund.
They should restore all local governments to the funding required by law. This not going to happen soon because the state needs that money - it has to fix prisons, it must root out corruption, it will have to solve the billion dollar debacle that is the VC Summer Nuclear Plant.
However, six month from now, we will know who our governor is going to be. We will have some statewide major industries humming with production (if federal tariffs don’t kill them first), and we should be well past the Great Recession of 2008.
It’s time to give local government back its money.
What would that mean in Laurens County? An extra $1 million would be restored to the General Fund, a fund that guides other county spending so much that a tax increase of $1.80/year on a $100,000 primary residence is likely to pass the County Council (third and final reading is pending). Taxpayers in Clinton will get the double-whammy - City Council has approved a 2.2-mil tax hike for city operations (there will be no tax increase for school operations in District 56).
With that restored Local Government Fund money, Laurens County can hire a professional planner and, as this person’s assistant, a professional mapper. We estimate this expense at $150,000/year.
These people then can guide the already-existing Laurens County Planning Commission through the steps of planning for growth. They can decide when and where Hwys 14 and 101 in Gray Court are widened. They can decide the agencies that need to partner to build infrastructure up there (already, a sewer line is going in for Mogul and Gray Court-Owings Elementary School). They can decide where the gated communities are going to be so that we can have CEOs living in Laurens County. They can decide the placement of the new Laurens Districts High School.
We need professional planning.
It’s already in the works, based on recommendation of Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime. The catch - how to pay for it. The Legislature can provide that money - OR, repeal Act 308 and give full taxing power back to counties and cities.
The Government that governs best governs closest to its citizens. The SC General Assembly should lead - as Mike Pitts is leading the growth/planning discussion - or follow or get out of the way.