by Matthew Robertson
Collaboration seems to be at the top of newly elected Florence County Council Chairman Willard Dorriety Jr.’s agenda.
Dorriety, elected council chairman in January, provided the annual state of the county address at the 2020 Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast held Friday, February 28 at the Florence Center.
He spoke for about 33 and a half minutes, using a PowerPoint containing several slides of photos.
“Florence County has a $64 million budget,” Dorriety said. “Some people think that’s a lot of money and it is but we run a very tight ship, a very thin ship, so we don’t have a lot of extra revenue to throw around.”
Dorriety implied that the lack of revenue necessitates working with partners. His presentation provided several examples of the collaboration between partners.
The Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation: He thanked the foundation of providing the funding to construct the county’s library system. Dorriety also reminded the crowd that the county is responsible for paying the employees at those libraries.
Dorriety said he felt the main branch of the library, the Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation Florence County Library, was part of the county’s contribution to the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.
He also thanked the foundation for donating approximately $4 million to the building of the Florence County Museum.
Once again, he said the county must pay for the employees of the museum.
Dorriety also mentioned the foundation’s involvement in the location of a Buc-EEs off Interstate 95’s exit 170.
Senator Hugh K. Leatherman Sr: Dorriety also thanked State Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. for his work in securing approximately $4 million for the construction of the county museum.
He mentioned that Leatherman helped the county acquire over $300 million in funding from the State Infrastructure Bank for the building of six roads in the county’s first capital project sales tax.
Dorriety also pushed back on criticism that Leatherman received for funding the expansion of S.C. 51, the Pamplico Highway, and U.S. 378. He said the critics had no idea how much those expansions were going to open up the areas of Pamplico, Johnsonville and Lake City.
City of Florence: Dorriety used the example of the Florence Center as showing the power of cooperation between the city and the county.
He said the facility had two profitable months in the previous year, very unusual for that type of facility.
The Florence Center’s economic impact is $52 million and growing, Dorriety said. That growth can be felt in the location of several hotels around the center.
Dorriety thanked the city for its help with water for the new Niagara Bottling Plant coming to the Pee Dee Touchtone Energy Commerce City.
On Wednesday, at the Florence County Legislative luncheon, Dorriety said working with the city on water was essential to continued economic development.
Dorriety also spoke about the county’s somewhat strained relationship with the city. Dorriety indicated at the February county council meeting that the county’s intergovernmental committee would be meeting with the city at least quarterly.
Florence Mayor Pro Tempore Frank J. “Buddy” Brand II indicated that the city had also set up a committee of himself and council members Glynn F. Willis and Teresa Myers Ervin to meet with the county’s committee.
Other municipalities: Dorriety also spoke about the transformation of Lake City, something he credited to the Darla Moore Foundation.
He recommended that those attending visit the new Lake City Park, now complete with accessible playground equipment for disabled children.
He also spoke about a project at another smaller municipality where the municipality sought and received $500,000 for the building of a new water tower in the second capital project sales tax. The municipality then used that funding to get a $1 million grant to build the water tower.
Utilities: The county’s three power utilities, Dorriety said, were also essential in providing the power to the potential industrial sites.
Dorriety added that three utilities, Duke Energy Progress, Pee Dee Electric Cooperative, and Santee Electric Cooperative, were fantastic partners.
Looking toward the future: The goal of the collaboration between the county and its partners, Dorriety said, was simple: continue to economically develop the county so that it can compete to retain its youth and grow into the future.
The major avenue for continued economic growth will be potentially two separate bond issues.
One, approved by the Florence County Council in February, will be around $22 million. The proceeds from those bonds will be used to acquire and develop industrial property in the county to have on hand when an economic developer investigates locating a facility in Florence.
The other is the potential reimposition of the Capital Project Sales Tax.
Dorriety said the committee created by the council was going to receive requests for about $350 million from municipalities and the county itself but would only have approximately $160 million to spend.
He said the potential penny sales — which would not increase sales taxes in the county — would likely be similar to the county’s current sales tax with a $125 million bond issue and $25 million of pay-as-you-go projects.
Dorriety also spoke about the county’s plans for the future including the construction of a four-level, 390 space parking deck between the County Complex building and the Florence County magistrates’ offices.
He said the new parking facility would cost $14 million and would not result in a tax increase.
Dorriety added that the County Complex and the parking lot that abuts the backside of several buildings on West Evans Street would also be getting facelifts.
Dorriety said it was nice to have organizations like the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. He added that all the organizations like the chamber share a love of the county.
He said the most important thing was the county’s 900 employees. Dorriety added that the county had some really, really good employees.
“As you businessmen know, your business is only as good as your employees,” Dorriety said. “If you don’t have good employees, it’s not good.”
Dorriety said he was very proud of the new Florence County Judicial Center. He said he was initially skeptical and voted against a bond issue. Dorriety added that his vote actually saved the county around $14 million.
He also spoke about $6 million of previous renovations to the County Complex, indicating that the complex’s additions including a medical facility, helped save the county funds by reducing the number of sick days and the amount of downtime of employees waiting to see a doctor.
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