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Highway improvements, neighborhood revitalization and upgraded EMS and fire stations remain some of the top priorities for county officials.
Those were just some of the many projects mentioned during a needs assessment public hearing at Lancaster County Council’s April 2 meeting.
Held annually, the hearing is used to gather information and compile a community needs list for Lancaster County, with help from the Catawba Regional Council of Governments. The COG then uses the list to identify needs eligible for Community Development Block Grants. The CDBG program, run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides annual grants to areas with residents with low to moderate income.
COG representative Grazier Rhea was at the meeting to gather information from council members and the community.
Rhea said there are several CDBG categories under which the county can apply for grants for projects. This includes the community infrastructure program, which has an available fund balance of $7.2 million and can be used for work on roads or water and sewer lines. She also mentioned the community enrichment program, which has $2 million available for workforce development projects or to create safer communities.
A village renaissance program can help rehabilitate neighborhoods, she said.
“This made a huge difference in the Brooklyn area,” Rhea told council.
She also urged council to keep in mind community infrastructure or enrichment projects, which can begin immediately and be funded as a “ready-to-go” project.
“You can apply any time of year for this, but the project has to be ready to go. This means you have to have everything you need already, such as permits, and it can be ready to be bid within 60 days,” she said. “It also has to address an urgent and compelling need.”
As part of the hearing, Rhea also reviewed the county’s prioritized community needs list from 2011. The top priority on the nine-item list encompasses the need for neighborhood revitalization activities in Lancaster’s Midway area, Dobson School area and Kershaw Mill area. Revitalization activities include clearance, infrastructure upgrades, housing rehabilitation, job training and affordable housing.
Other items on last year’s list include promoting economic development and job creation, upgrading water and sewer services, building new or upgraded EMS and fire stations, improving transportation along U.S. 521 and S.C. 9, improving the L&C Railway, upgrading library facilities, creating social service agency facilities in the Panhandle and promoting fair housing for all residents.
Rhea suggested a few revisions and additions to the list, such as adding Grace Avenue to the county’s list of neighborhood revitalization areas. Also, if the county ever applies for an EMS station upgrade, it will have to demonstrate the station serves low- to moderate-income residents.
Councilman Jack Estridge asked if the addition of a turn lane off the highway near Andrew Jackson High School could be added to the needs list.
“I’ve asked and asked and asked to have a turning lane there,” Estridge said. “Most middle schools and high schools have better turning lanes. It’s awful.”
Rhea wasn’t sure if there was a portion of CDBG funding that would apply.
“I”m not sure it’s something you can use that money for, but I’ll check,” Rhea said. “But just because you can’t use funding for it doesn’t mean you don’t put it on the list.”
She then asked council to review the list and report back on any additions. The revised list will be presented at a later council meeting.
“Y’all are the ones out there and know what’s going on,” she said. “So this has to be a joint effort between the council, staff and us. We work with all of you.”
About the CDBG program
According to the S.C. Department of Commerce website, the state’s CDBG program provides assistance to local governments to improve economic opportunities and community revitalization projects for low- to moderate-income residents. The program, which has been funded through the state since 1982 by HUD, focuses on projects that involve neighborhood improvements, public infrastructure and the local economy.
Past CDBG projects in Lancaster County have included water line upgrades in the Westwood community, housing initiatives with the county’s Habitat for Humanity and various housing rehabilitation work in Lancaster’s Brooklyn neighborhood.