Members present: Councilman S.L. Ford, Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Darren Janesky, Councilman Dennis Stroupe, Mayor Mike Patterson, Administrator Dalton Pierce, and Assistant Administrator Jeff Wilkins. Councilwoman Christy Gibson was absent for personal reasons.
Blacksburg Police Chief Jamie Ham publicly honored and recognized Officer Bryan Mullinax shortly before announcing Officer Mullinax’s promotion to the rank of Lieutenant in the Blacksburg Police Department. Representatives from the Blacksburg Volunteer Fire Department and the Council spoke about changes to their financial support from the town since the department began receiving Fire District Tax proceeds. They came to the conclusion that their original contracts from before the change should be considered outdated and talked over with the Town Attorney. Council approved the suggestion from Asst. Admin. Jeff Wilkins to do business with Arista Billing Services out of Winston-Salem, NC to streamline their process of sending out municipal water and sewer bills for nearly the same cost to the town as doing it themselves. Five roads in town are scheduled to be resurfaced using C Funds from Gas Taxes. Fee Schedules for Sewer and Water, as well as for Zoning and Planning were discussed. A Lead and Copper Water Compliance Study and Fire Hydrant Replacement and Repair were also discussed, as were plans to acquire a new town boom truck, renovate the Cooksey Street Ground Storage Tank, and offer a Covid-19 premium work bonus to town employees using American Rescue Plan funds.
The bigger highlights included a heartfelt presentation from resident Jenny Stroupe. She was speaking on behalf of a student-based Cherokee County Organization that has planned a Town Hall strategizing event on February 22nd at 6PM in the Blacksburg High School Auditorium. They would like the community to attend and offer suggestions to the question of how to deter young people from drug use and/or vaping. Mrs. Stroupe choked up when she spoke of the number of young people who have recently died in the local area due to the presence of Fentanyl and other strong hidden drugs, being hidden in more innocent-seeming packages, like that of tainted vape cartridges. Sadly, one of the recently passed, was her own nephew. She spoke to the fact that there have been deaths in Gaffney and Shelby too, from the same cause, and Councilman Dennis Stroupe added mention of an article he had read involving a high school in Tennessee that had to be shut down and decontaminated because a student operated a vape that was found to contain Fentanyl. “Babies are dying!”, She cried, and I paraphrase from her words last night, “…if we don’t get a handle on this, it won’t be the kids you read about in the news, but the kids who sat at the table with you at Sunday dinner just weeks ago…”
There was a lot of talk about raises and rate hikes. Council was hesitant to approve either. A Compensation Study was done and it was suggested to Council that their rates of compensation be raised in Blacksburg, SC to match the average of similar municipalities. Council appeared to be uncomfortable with the concept of voting themselves a raise, and made it clear in their statements that they view their posts as community volunteering work that they don’t do for the money. No vote was taken and Councilman S.L. Ford moved to Table the subject until a later date, and it was agreed upon to Table it. Later, the subject of Sewer and Water rates was brought up by Admin. Dalton Pierce. He pointed out that the costs of operations and repairs is causing the Town of Blacksburg, SC to take losses in their provision of water and sewer utilities. He recommended that the rates be heightened and suggested the rate that was reported to him by an Engineering Consultant. The quoted rate would have increased most household sewer and water bills by $9 or so and added a little something more for Debris Pickup. The majority of Council was hesitant to approve a sudden $9 increase, and favored a lower rate and/or an incremental rise. They stated that they understood that the costs of doing business rise, but that they wanted to be slow to burden the residents of their districts. The eventually conclusion that was approved by Council was that Water would go up by $2 and Sewer would go up by $3 with a possible incremental rise over time.
Nearing the end of the meeting, Hospitality funds were discussed, with the focus of the subject being the approved disbursement of the funds to local organizations and event planners. The Blacksburg Business Association had requested $5,000 for their proposed “Iron City Strong” series of town events. I did not exactly catch whether the request was approved or not, as an attending resident took this moment as an opportunity to speak to the attending audience. The resident complained that they did not like the events, and that they are nothing but noisy, inconvenient, and of no benefit to the town. This resident called for a Financial Cost-Benefit Analysis in an effort to have them shut down, as such a study would have had no means to measure personal enjoyment or resident engagement with their community, and could only measure whether or not the town turned a monetary profit. To this resident’s surprise, no one agreed with them. “If there were 40 people in the room, it was 39 against one,” one attending community member said of it after the fact; “Why not just shut the whole town down”, another had said in sarcasm. A number of people at the meeting raised their hands and declared that they too lived in town and that they love the events. Another stated that she believed the events are of benefit. The Council was of a similar mind. They stated that for so very very long, Blacksburg, SC had nothing going on, and no means to get anything started; that it had took such a long time to build up the resources and the community engagement to give residents something to do and look forward to, something to get them into downtown, a little life and vibrancy. They weren’t about to just shut it down now that it was just growing feet. It is my belief that every person in attendance loved that, except the resident that brought up the complaint. That resident promptly left the meeting as soon as Council moved on to other business.
The meeting approached it’s end with an update that the Town of Blacksburg, SC will again be donating $5,000 to The Cherokee Children’s Home this year, and that a Lime Street Park Final Walkthrough is in the works with a Ribbon Cutting/Opening to be announced when the details are final. Council moved to a short Executive Session to discuss Personnel and American Rescue Plan funds. No action was taken, and Council was dismissed.