It's been a very interesting year in the City of Georgetown. We've had turnover in some key positions among the professional staff, some big construction projects, and the reorganization of some city departments.
We lost an excellent city administrator when Horry County hired Chris Eldridge to be its new administrator. Fortunately, we were able to get a first class interim administrator in Carey Smith. Carey promised us he would not be just a place holder if we hired him and he has been true to his word. He hit the ground running and has helped us tremendously in the short time he has been here. Among other things, Carey implemented regular workshops for City Council. We meet at least once a month now to discuss projects, policies, plans, and goals. As a result, we have been able to expedite our council meetings and get a lot more done in less time.
Council hired Chris Carter to be our new administrator beginning on February 7th. Carey Smith will remain on staff for a transition period to help get Chris up to speed. Chris comes to us from the City of Williston, S.C., where he has been administrator for two years. Before that, he was City Manager for North Wilkesboro, NC for six years and City Manager for Hendersonville, N.C., for fourteen years. Besides his strong municipal management background, he has a lot of experience in historic preservation, public utilities, and other areas that will be needed as Georgetown's City Administrator.
At long last, Council has created and funded a position which includes major responsibilities for economic development. This position designated as Director of Planning and Economic Development, is currently being advertised. Besides working on bringing jobs to the city and improving the business climate, this person will be in charge of the planning department. One of the on going responsibilities of this position is to aggressively seek territory to be annexed into the city.
Council has combined the public works, waste water, water, fleet management and storm water departments into one public services department. We are in the process of hiring a certified professional engineer to oversee this new combined department. Besides having these departments operate more efficiently as a result of being combined, this position, designated as the Director of Public Services will serve as project manager for various City projects and also as city engineer which will save us a lot of money by doing a share of our engineering work in house.
We are still in the market for a finance director. I am happy to report that our external auditors informed me the other day that the lack of a director for the past several months has not caused any appreciable problems. The auditors say that it is common for a city with the turnover in staff that we experienced in the finance department this year to have five or more audit deficiencies. They preliminarily report that we have had only one this year. Kudos to Debra Bivens, interim finance director, and her staff who rose to the occasion and have done an excellent job, although short handed.
The drainage project is winding down without any more problems. It should be finished sometime this spring. We are in the homestretch and the primary work that still remains is the landscaping, fence installation, permanent signage and lighting for the site. That corner should be very attractive when the project is finished.
The demolition of the old Eagle Electric building is about complete. Council has approved a conceptual plan for the site and is moving forward with the site engineering work. A fire station and water tower will be the first major uses placed on the property. Eventually we hope to move the public services, fleet management and electric utility operation to that site.
While in the early stages of planning, the U.S. 17 corridor between the inter-sections of U.S. 701 and U.S. 521 and Highmarket Street is scheduled for a major road improvement. The road surface will be completely rebuilt by the SCDOT and the City is collaborating in the project to install mast arms, place utility lines under ground, improve turning safety movements and upgrade the lighting and aesthetics for the corridor. You will be hearing more about this project during the 2013 year.
The City continues to upgrade the neighborhood parks. We have made a concerted effort to do a better job of landscaping at the parks and they all look much better than in the past. This includes regular plantings of flowers. In fact, we have done a much better job of maintaining rights of way and city maintained areas throughout the city for the past several years. City employees have been sent to master gardening classes. The Keep Georgetown Beautiful Committee has designed the planting schemes for the work crews to implement. As a result all the city parks and public areas are much more attractive. There seems to be spill over effect because when the KGB did its annual litter survey, the City was the cleanest its been in years. When the city does a better job of maintenance, the residents and business people take notice and take better care of their own property.
Council has increased the level of city services without any significant increase in taxes or fees over the past three years. We have done this by aggressively cutting costs where possible, reducing staff through attrition, and using technology to become more efficient. The city budget has remained steady at about $31 million for the past two years, down from $32.5 million in 2010-11.
We have many challenges ahead. The waste water treatment plant needs a substantial upgrade to the retention pond. This is to decrease the amount of bacteria that grows there while the water is stored prior to its discharge into the river. We may have to replace the water tower at city hall because of voids in the ground underneath it. This may be a blessing in disguise because the towers at City Hall and the bottom of Rosen Bridge are old and too small to be maximally efficient. We have budgeted substantial funds to renovate and paint these towers but the money might be better spent in building a new water tower at a better location.
Things are looking very positive for Georgetown for the coming year.
Mayor, City of Georgetown
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