A divided Laurens County Council on Tuesday night took a first step toward designing a new headquarters for the county’s emergency medical service.
On a 4-2 vote, council authorized spending a not-to-exceed amount of $25,000 to hire Stewart Cooper Newell Architects, of Gastonia, N.C., to make the design. The building, on land not yet identified, would house EMS, 911 Communication, Emergency Management and County Fire Service. Retired would be the current EMS building on the Hwy. 76 Bypass in Laurens (across from The Ridge) and the former library in downtown Laurens, home to 911 and the Emergency Operations Center.
County Public Works Director Dale Satterfield said Laurens County EMS is having trouble recruiting EMTs and paramedics because of where they have to work and stay overnight.
“Every since I came on board in November, we have struggled with the size buildings that we need,” he said.
Consultants will come to Laurens and talk to officials and employees to get an understanding of space needs and what they want in a new building. Satterfield said the consultants’ report will show the difference between “wants” and “needs.”
Council Chairman Dr. David Pitts and Council Vice-chairman Joe Wood voted “no.” Council members Jeff Carroll, Garrett McDaniel, Diane Anderson and Kemp Younts voted “yes”; one seat is vacant.
McDaniel joined Pitts and Wood to block a similar request to pay the consultants to study a new Sheriff’s and Coroner’s Office building. The county doesn’t have the money right now to build either building -- a new Sheriff’s Office or a new EMS headquarters -- but McDaniel said EMS is the priority.
Pitts said an architect will be hired to do the same work as the consultants if the county decides to build something new.
Wood said the consultant’s study will just “sit on a shelf.”
“I could do this. I could sit down with our people, and in an hour or two, have a plan,” said Wood, who has building-trade experience.
County Administrator Jon Caime said the council has charged him with the duty of planning for the future, and this consultant’s report is part of that planning.
Anderson said, “We need to look at the future of the county -- now, and a couple years from now. We need a plan. In Greenwood County, they have six planners.”
A new EMS headquarters could be proposed for The Capital Initiative which voters will decide on in November 2020. The county is just about tapped out in its bonded indebtedness, after approving Tuesday night an $8.25 million general obligation bond to do other work and to refinance some current debt.
With low interest rates right now, the re-fi will save the county $100,000 in interest payments, the council has been told.
In other business, the county council:
-- Thanked workers at the county landfill site for their efforts to load and ship away old tires brought in by the public -- 2,000 to 4,000 tires are loaded onto a trailer for pick-up by a recycling company.
-- Heard a report from Coroner Nick Nichols that his office so far this year has looked into 447 deaths in Laurens County; he estimates the figure will exceed 600 by year-end.
-- Hosted a presentation by Jan Harman, representing Congressman Jeff Duncan, of a flag flown above the Capitol, to retired magistrate Tommy Copeland.
-- Received a bond report from Gray Court citizen Jay Weisner about an on-going dispute with the Carolina Piedmont Railroad. Weisner said he made the report about a 200-foot “corridor” claimed by the railroad through property in the Gray Court area -- a corridor that Weisner said the railroad actually does not own, based on deeds -- because the council was told by legal counsel that Weisner was wrong in saying it’s not Carolina Piedmont Railroad property. “You were told I am wrong. I am not wrong,” Weisner said. “They are bullying me.”
-- Authorized Emergency Management to accept its annual grant - $60,724 - in local emergency performance funds, with no required county match.
-- Heard from animal rescuer Brittany Schaeffer that the Laurens County Animal Shelter’s Advisory Council has been disbanded, apparently without the county council’s knowledge. She asked for an appointment with the council members to discuss the shelter in depth.
-- Heard from David Underwood that Weisner is right in his report concerning the railroad’s conduct in northern Laurens County. He said, “I encourage you to investigate further.”
-- Spent 25 minutes in a closed executive session for a contract discussion, and took no action.