Article & photo by:
City officials spent the better part of two days looking ahead to the challenges 2024 and beyond pose for Greenwood.
Each year, Greenwood City Council hosts an annual planning meeting. Council and city administration officials spent the first half of Thursday listening to presentations from department heads on their accomplishments and challenges during the past year, before going on to consider the challenges that lie ahead.
One of the top challenges facing the city is garbage collection. The city has two commercial drivers’ license-holding drivers; four down from full-staffed. Assistant City Manager Ryan Thomas said he doesn’t expect the staffing to improve soon.
Commercial garbage collection service has been operating at a deficit of about $122,000, meaning the collection fees commercial customers pay doesn’t cover the cost of running the service — the city has been subsidizing it. The city can’t afford to lose another CDL driver, and raised pay for them to $20 an hour earlier this year.
One solution, City Manager Julie Wilkie said, could be to explore privatizing commercial collections. This could free up city CDL drivers to work other routes, and potentially save the city money on operating a commercial collection service.
Council discussed the possibility of contracting with a single service provider that could offer that service while the city collects a 3% franchise fee and is able to negotiate consistent rates for customers, or subsidize the service to keep rates low.
“I think we need more concrete numbers to make a decision,” said Councilwoman Niki Hutto.
Wilkie made clear that whatever council decides to do, the city is not looking to cut drivers they’re already short on. This staffing shortage is felt in curbside and residential garbage collection routes, too. Council discussed easing some of the staff’s burden by limiting what curbside items they’ll continue to collect, as well as how much.
Council will further explore whether to stop picking up large appliances, tires, mattresses and even grass clippings, if not placed within a roll cart. Limiting how much yard waste crews will pick up from residential lots was also discussed. Alongside route efficiency improvements, staff are eager to find ways to make the job easier, given that they don’t expect staffing to improve soon.
When council approved the city’s budget for 2023, it was operating at a deficit and using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to cover the difference. Now, approaching the end of the fiscal year at the end of December, the city still has $1.4 million remaining in its budget.
A few things led to that deficit vanishing: Revenues were more than $1 million more than expected, and expenditures were about $430,000 less. Most of those saved expenses were from salaries from vacant positions in public works and sanitation.
The budget for 2024 that council will have first reading on in November is also operating at a deficit — it’s $441,000 in the red. The entire deficit comes from implementing the city’s recent compensation and class study, which took a look at what employees are paid compared to eight similarly sized communities and recommended bringing people up to a competitive minimum salary for their roles.
Wilkie explored ways to balance the budget with council: Privatizing commercial sanitation is one, seeking a grant to cover overtime pay or transferring money from the parks fund to cover time public works staff spend working on local parks.
But Wilkie advised something different: Let’s wait and see.
“I think we’ll probably come in under budget,” she said.
There are indications property tax revenues will be higher than anticipated, and the city didn’t need to use ARPA funds to cover any deficit this year. Wilkie said they can plan to cover any 2024 deficit with ARPA funds, but monitor it along the way to see if that’s even going to be necessary.
Council explored a number of projects that Wilkie and her staff might bring before them for funding in 2024, including:
- Stormwater study: An evaluation of the condition of the city’s stormwater infrastructure. It’s been funded in the budget for the past two years, but Wilkie said she’s been waiting to secure grant funding to cover the cost instead.
- Waller Avenue streetscape: Improvements along Waller Avenue, behind the Exchange shops.
- City parking lot: Wilkie wants to seek ideas from qualified designers/contractors on what to do with the parking lot along Maxwell Avenue, between Long and Monument streets. The city wants to preserve or even expand parking spaces there, but activate additional retail locations to increase the walkability and appeal of Maxwell Avenue.
- Toros field: The city owns the field on Phoenix Street where the Toros soccer club plays, and is seeking to do stormwater and field improvements, along with improving support structures, parking and bathrooms.
- Lower Maxwell alley: The alleyway running behind businesses such as The Mill House, E.S. Moon’s Martial Arts and Emerald Ink and Stitches needs streetscaping and improvement, as it serves as a delivery spot for those businesses and has necessary hookups for the City Fire Department.
- PALS Building engineering: The former PALS building at 104 Main St. is slated to become a visitor’s center, but engineering work must be done first before seeking funds for the actual renovation.
- Neighborhood revitalization: As the city pursues tearing down condemned buildings, it also wants to plan for in-fill development that could replace the demolished homes.
- Uptown arcades: The glass-like panels on the roofs of Uptown’s arcades are breaking and falling down, and Wilkie said they need to be removed. Additionally, the city wants to study the feasibility of removing the arcades entirely and finding a new way to give people access to the second story of Uptown’s buildings.
- Splash pad evaluation: Since Day One, the splash pad at the Uptown Market has had problems with pressure and features not working correctly. Wilkie said she wants to hire someone to come in and evaluate how to better operate the splash pad.
- 2024 Capital Project Sales Tax ideas: Assuming Greenwood County pursues another capital project sales tax on the 2024 General Election ballot, the city wants to have projects ready to pitch. Chief among the ideas are building a new shop for the city’s maintenance department, a new station one for the fire department, renovating the former PALS building and finishing the renovation of Carolina Avenue.