David Purtell - Staff Writer

Free classes offer technology job skills

An opportunity for people to increase their job readiness is right around the corner.
A free, state-certified manufacturing-technology class will begin Feb. 20 and is available to individuals who are unemployed or underemployed. Some courses will be held at the Denmark Technical College campus in Barnwell.
The classes consist of 200 hours of classroom and hands-on training, including production simulation. They are federally funded and promote manufacturing careers. In South Carolina, classes are being offered in partnership with the state's technical colleges.

Economic Development Situation at a crossroads

UPDATE: Blackville Mayor Mike Beasley said Friday the three mayors were not able to get their proposal to County Council Chairman Freddie Houston this week because of the havoc caused by winter storm Pax and the fact that Williston Mayor Jason Stapleton's store, Buck's Hardware in Barnwell, burnt down Tuesday night. Beasley said he hopes the mayors can get together in the next few days and finalize their proposal and recommendations regarding the Economic Development Commission. 

Original Story:

WEHS play opens Friday

A musical production that has mesmerized audiences around the world is coming to Williston this weekend.
Les Misérables will be performed by a cast of students Feb. 7 and 8 in the Williston-Elko High School Auditorium.
The musical is based on the novel of the same name by French author and poet Victor Hugo. Set in early 19th century France, the play tells the story of several characters but mainly that of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his quest for redemption. It is a tale of poverty, struggle and justice.

Jobless rate is 10.8% - or really higher?

Barnwell County's unemployment rate decreased throughout 2013, but a closer look at the numbers may provide insight on why.
In December, the county's jobless rate was 10.8 percent - third highest in the state - according to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce. But looking at the figures for December is not the most reliable method to discern actual unemployment levels since the holiday-shopping season brings with it an increase in the hiring of temporary workers. And figures published by DEW are not seasonally adjusted at the county level to reflect this.

Council allows towns to expend EDC funds

Barnwell County Council discussed the ongoing dilemma with the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission and three municipalities during a special-called meeting Jan. 24.
After a closed session with county attorney J.D. Mosteller, council passed a resolution allowing the municipalities that received donated property and money from the EDC board to use the money to maintain the properties. The resolution also asked the municipalities to deposit the money - Barnwell city, Blackville, and Williston each got $90,000 - in a joint bank account that the county would have access to.

Gang task force could be taking shape

The long-proposed task force to battle gang and drug activity in the county may finally become a reality in the coming months.
An intergovernmental agreement between the county and its seven municipal governments to fund the task force will be on the agendas for the regular council meetings in February for the county's three largest towns: Barnwell, Blackville and Williston.
The councils of those three towns have all expressed support for the task force.

Blackville approves wording change to water billing ordinance

Blackville Town Council had the first reading of an ordinance to fix a problem with the water-billing system during its regular meeting Jan. 21.
The issue stems from the use of the word "reconnect" in the current water-billing ordinance. The ordinance states: Bills not paid by the end of the business day on the 25th day of each month will be disconnected on the 26th day of the month. A reconnect fee of $25 will be added to each bill and the bill must be paid in full before services can be reconnected.

Winter weather hits Barnwell County; Schools closed Thursday

Snow, sleet and freezing rain fell on Barnwell County Tuesday night and early Wednesday.
Most parts of Barnwell County received less than an inch of snow -- even though reports called for as much as 4 inches -- but the major problem was the sleet and freezing rain that made driving hazardous and had people scraping ice off of their car windshields Wednesday morning. No major accidents in the county have been reported so far. 
There were scattered reports of power outages Tuesday night.

Liberty Tax opens second Barnwell office

The county's Chamber of Commerce welcomed Liberty Tax Service to the downtown-Barnwell area last week.
Chamber Director Angie Boyles held the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the business, which specializes in helping people with their tax returns.
Operations officer Sherwin Gloston said the business will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday thru Saturday, during the tax season and Sundays by appointment. He said they handle all types of tax returns.

Push for new county tax begins

The push is on to get a referendum on the November ballot seeking a new tax to fund projects around the county.
Mayors and County Council members met Jan. 15 to discuss a capital project sales tax, which would add a 1 percent tax to most purchases made within the county. Money raised from the tax would go toward specific projects designated by a commission made up of representatives from the county and its municipalities.
Voters would have to approve the new tax before it could be enacted.

Williston discusses EDC

Williston town council spent over an hour in closed session discussing the situation with the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission during the regular meeting Jan. 13.
Council took no action after the session. After the meeting, Mayor Jason Stapleton said council discussed the proposal county council made regarding changing the make up of the EDC board.

County approves dual office settlement

Barnwell County Council has approved a $20,000 settlement regarding the dual-office holding lawsuit some council members have been embroiled in for years.
The $20,000 was included in a budget-amendment ordinance passed by council during the regular meeting Jan. 14.
County Council members were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by former members of the Barnwell County Hospital Board after council removed them from the board and then appointed council members to it.

Hospital board becomes three

Barnwell County Council members are no longer on the county hospital board.
During the Dec. 10 regular meeting, council voted to appoint three people to the board, each representing one of the county's three school districts. The three appointees are: Loraine Patrick, Blackville school district; Alan Mulligan, Williston school district; and Bob Hundley will represent the Barnwell school district.
Even though the hospital is now in private hands, the board still has to deal with any issues pending from the hospital's bankruptcy.

Barnwell begins search for new police chief

Barnwell City Council received some sad news during its regular meeting, Jan. 6.
Barnwell Police Chief Todd Gantt announced he will be retiring at the end of February.
"I want to say it's been a great run," Gantt told council. He thanked everyone, especially his fellow officers, for all the support they've given him over the years.
Gantt joined the department in 1998 and became chief in 2003. In all, he has spent 31 years in law enforcement.
Gantt said he feels it's the right time for him to step down.

Support growing for bringing YMCA to county

The "Y-train" is coming and people better get on board.
That's the message County Councilman Jerry Creech had for over 100 people who attended a public meeting Jan. 9 about bringing a YMCA to the county.
Danny McConnell, CEO of the Augusta YMCA, spoke at length about the benefits of establishing a Y in the community. He also said the only way it will happen is if the community pulls together to make it a reality.

Milliken plant gone, but effects will linger

The old Milliken plant on Jackson Street in Barnwell is gone, but the city and county have lost more than just a building.
The plant opened in the 1950s - it was owned by Amerotron then and bought by the Milliken Company in the ‘60s - at its peak it employed over 1,000 people in the textile industry. The plant closed in 2009 and 125 jobs were lost along with revenue that went to the county and city.

Council wants towns to have say in EDC

Barnwell County Council plans to allow the towns to have a say about who is on the board when the Economic Development Commission is reconstituted.
Council announced the plan during a special-called meeting Friday, Jan. 3. Council went into closed session for over an hour to discuss "pre-litigation matters regarding donated properties." After the closed session, council unanimously passed a resolution detailing how the new EDC board will be chosen.

County Council members, mayors meet to discuss donated property

Three mayors and three Barnwell County Council members sat down Monday morning to discuss the ongoing situation with the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission.
Blackville Mayor Mike Beasley, Williston Mayor Jason Stapleton and Barnwell Mayor Edward Lemon had asked for the meeting with county council's government committee in wake of the EDC handing over county assets to the three municipalities. County Council Chairman Freddie Houston along with council members Keith Sloan and David Kenner make up the committee.

Blackville ‘disconnects’ on wording

Discussion about one word in a town ordinance was the hot topic during Blackville Town Council's regular meeting Dec. 16.
The word is "reconnect," and the dissuasion was about its meaning in the town's water-billing ordinance.
The ordinance states, "Bills not paid by the end of the business day on the 25th day of each month will be disconnected on the 26th day of the month. A reconnect fee of $25 will be added to each bill and the bill must be paid in full before services can be reconnected."

Council recalls EDC board after donations

Barnwell County Council removed all members of a county board from their appointments during a special-called meeting Friday, Dec. 20, and gave the county's attorney permission to do whatever is necessary to get back county land, money and other assets given away by the board's members. State law enforcement has opened an investigation into the situation as well.

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