Monday, January 23, 2012

Aquatic, rec center coming to Santee

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The proposed Santee Recreation and Water Park will not be a duplication of the Orangeburg Aquatic Center, Orangeburg County Deputy Administrator Harold Young said at Wednesday's Santee Town Council meeting. The Santee facility will feature an aquatic center, basketball and tennis courts, baseball fields, a soccer field and pavilions.

SANTEE - Orangeburg County is moving forward with plans to build an aquatic park and recreation center near the Santee Conference Center on Bass Drive.

Plans for the Santee Recreation and Water Park were announced at a special called Santee Town Council meeting Wednesday night. At the meeting, the council unanimously approved second reading of an ordinance to sell 8.47 acres to the county for "$10 love and affection" for the new facility. The property is bordered by Bass Drive, Bonner Avenue and a small portion of Newton Road, and is categorized as "general commercial zoning." A residential zone is located behind it.

A public hearing on the project prior to second-reading approval of the ordinance did not generate any comments.

The property deed stipulates construction of the proposed recreation facility would begin by June 2014 or the land and the $10 would revert back to the Town of Santee.

Harold Young, county deputy administrator, said an aquatic center, basketball courts, tennis courts, baseball fields, a soccer field, recreational pavilions and ample parking are included in the overall master plan for the park.

County Councilman Johnnie Ravenell said the project will not only benefit Santee but the eastern end of the county as well.

He said development of the Recreation and Water Park will play an important role in attracting businesses, residents and visitors to the Santee area, which encompasses the Global Logistics Triangle at the intersections of U.S. 301 and Interstates 95 and 26.

Funding for the project is "tapped under the next round of Capital Project Sales Tax funds," also known as the penny sales tax, Young said. The next round of funding will be in 2013, he said. Young said the project is a joint effort of the county and the town.

While Young provided a conceptual drawing of the park, he cautioned that "it may change many times before the project happens."

He also noted the project "will not occur overnight," pointing out construction of the Orangeburg County Aquatic Center took nearly two years to complete. While the YMCA staffs and manages the center in Orangeburg, Young said he could not yet confirm if the YMCA would be involved at the Santee facility.

Former Santee mayor Silas Seabrooks asked about the possibility of the municipalities securing or borrowing funding so construction could begin sooner.

Young said County Councilmen Johnny Ravenell and Johnnie Wright had some funds for recreation they were willing to provide to try to start some of the architectural and engineering work so the groundwork could begin "sometime soon."

"It's a complicated process because ... this is just a picture ... there are volumes of features that have to be looked at and gone through. They'll have to do a study to figure out volume ... average daily users," Young said.

The aquatic center in Santee would "not be a duplication" of what's already in Orangeburg, he said, noting, "We want to give you something different."

Throughout the planning process, there will be public readings and hearings on contracts so citizens can also be involved, Young said.

Santee Mayor Donnie Hilliard said he and town officials were looking forward to working with the county on the project, and he thanked the county officials for their time and effort.

Also during the meeting, a public hearing was held on the proposed ordinance to amend the town's water purchase agreement with the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency. No comments were made, and the council approved second and final reading of the ordinance.

Under the amended ordinance, the LMRWA will no longer have exclusive rights to revenues generated through the town's sale of water.

Hilliard, prior to first reading of the ordinance at council's regular January meeting, told town officials, "In the agreement you originally signed, you state that all revenues that would be derived from the sale of water by the town was subject to the auspices of control by the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency, meaning that if the town would ever have a need to borrow some funds, they could not place the revenues towards the payback of the loan because the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency had first rights to those funds."

He noted at that meeting that Santee will be "in the market for borrowing money for our water/wastewater system (upgrades)" and that the "bonding agency will not make (funds) available to us" without the town being able to pledge water revenues as payback of the loan.

In other business, Bob Faulkner, auditor with the firm of Faulkner and Thompson, presented the town's 2010-2011 fiscal year audit.

He praised the town for a "successful audit" and said the town received a "clean" opinion.

Faulkner said the books and records were in good shape and his firm received cooperation the town employees.

"We didn't find any major accounting issues ... and the town did a good job of being fiscally responsible," he said.

In addition, the auditor reported the town's internal control issues from previous audits had been "whittled down."

"There are a lot fewer comments on there today" than in previous years, Faulkner said.

He advised council to document the town's policies and procedures in a manual.

Also Wednesday, council went into closed, executive session to discuss a contractual matter but did not take any action.

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