Although not an item on the meeting agenda, discussion of the flooding along Crooked Creek dominated the Bennettsville City Council meeting Tuesday.
Due to recent heavy rains water had begun flowing over the bridge on Marlboro Street as of Tuesday afternoon, causing that road to be temporarily closed. When Crooked Creek overflows its banks, homes in the Shady Rest area and the Richardson Park community are subject to flood damage.
Council member Gregory Scott said that several families in Richardson Park are expecting to be forced to evacuate at some point this week.
Mayor Carolyn Prince reported that the fire department and police are constantly monitoring the situation. Fire Chief Chris Burks said that no one has been forced out at this time but one elderly person has relocated voluntarily.
Burks told that several houses were surrounded by water and with more rain in the forecast for later in the week, the situation may get worse.
City Administrator Max Alderman reported on efforts to get the creek cleared of debris and work to get a grant for a storm water study.
The news on the grant, Alderman says is promising but that the funds would not be available until June. This would only provide for research on how to solve the flooding issues.
Legal work last fall revealed that the official owner of the creek is the SC Department of Administration. Alderman has been in communication with that department but the state agency has refused to get involved with the clean up of the creek. The state is claiming that the Home Rule Act of 1975 absolves their ownership and places it on the county and city to maintain the creek.
The council agreed to sign a joint letter appealing for assistance from all state and federal elected officials who represent the city.
"We have got to find someone to help us," said Prince.
By coincidence, one item of business on the agenda was an offer to sell several parcels of land along Crooked Creek to the city by a citizen. The council voted unanimously against pursuing this property.
The council passed first reading of an ordinance that will alter how businesses can display merchandise and decorations on the sidewalks in front of their buildings.
Under the ordinance, businesses will be allowed to display merchandise on the sidewalks after obtaining an encroachment permit. To qualify for this permit, the business owners will have to provide proof of liability insurance. Any display on the sidewalk must leave a minimum of 5 feet of pedestrian clearance.
Council requested that several items in the new ordinance be made more specific before second reading is approved next month.
Mayor Prince addressed concerns about the ongoing budget process for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Last week, the council met for over two hours, discussing the preliminary draft of the new budget.
Prince read from a publication by the Municipal Association of South Carolina, which urged all councils to be very careful and conservative when approaching the budgeting process. Uncertainty generated by the ongoing COVID pandemic may continue to have negative impacts on cities.
"We have to be good stewards. It is a time to focus on needs, not wants right now," said Prince.
The council will again address the budget in a work session which was scheduled for March 3.
Prince also addressed some comments that reached her that the council did not want citizens to attend council meetings.
She said that this could not be farther from the truth and that the council was making every attempt to be as transparent as possible.
The mayor reiterated that all citizens are not only welcome but are encouraged to attend. If anyone wishes to address the council, they may sign up to briefly speak during council meetings at the appointed time.
City employees celebrating work anniversaries in February are Mary Burkmier, 34 years; Barbara Baker, 21 years; Luke Sides, 3 years; and Scott Bowen, 2 years.