UNION — Let me first take this opportunity to say thank you to the citizens of this great city for giving me the opportunity to serve you. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly. And I truly believe that the quality of a community comes about from the people that are a part of it.
I remain very mindful of the budgetary and fiscal challenges our city faces and will face as we move forward through another year.
However, over the years we have not had to cut any of our services or our workforce, but there is an ever increasing cost to provide public safety through fire and police protection and maintaining a sound infrastructure to support the service we provide our citizens. Coupled with that, we must provide adequate healthcare to our employees who maintain these services on a regular basis. However, working to keep up with inflationary pressures, federal and state mandates, personnel cost driven by health insurance and workman’s compensation expenses will be a challenge in the coming year.
While I feel the City of Union is moving in a positive direction, there remains much to be done. We remain diligent in our efforts to compete for Community Block Development Grants for revitalization to neighborhoods and Infrastructure Grants for sewer and water upgrades.
Street resurfacing and sidewalk repair continues to be at the forefront of our efforts in this area, as monies become available through C-Fund and CDBG. The City has established a priority list that we have been working from over the years.
Housing rehabilitation and demolition is an area of great concern. City staff has identified at least 40 properties that required attention as far as condemnation or just routine yard maintenance is concerned. We have budgeted funds to do at least six demolitions a year and as many as we can during the grant process in those areas covered by grants.
The City will also be participating in a new Neighborhood Initiative in cooperation with Catawba Regional Council of Governments and the South Carolina Housing Corporation to purchase and demolish uninhabitable vacant homes in an effort to reduce blight and increase property value in the City of Union. These properties must be in a neighborhood or in proximity of other occupied homes. This is a new program and we will be getting more information out to our citizens in the next few weeks. Anyone interested in more details on the program can drop by my office in City Hall.
The city continues to partner with The National League of Cities in three enterprise programs that have proven to be an asset for our citizens. The water, sewer and in home line program has saved a lot of our citizens thousands of dollars for repairs the they would not have been able to afford, for a minimum yearly fee. These programs are provided on a voluntary basis.
After a lot of discussion and analysis we decided not to raise rates or fees in the FY 2015/2016 budget… water, wastewater, electric and natural gas remained the same. However, natural gas wholesale commodity rates continue to track lower, and indicators in the market expect natural gas commodities increases to be moderate in FY 2016.
The natural gas system is one of the bright spots for the City. Our industrial load continues to increase due to the economic upturn as well as new growth in large commercial and industrial.
The City continues to be a key player in helping promote economic growth and works diligently with the county to promote these efforts. As we continue to work together for growth and development the challenge of revenue generation can be met, and there is no reason why the city should not continue to be fiscally healthy.
This is a brief overview of where we are in various areas. I continue to have an open door policy and if anyone needs more information feel free to call and or come by.
Harold Thompson is the mayor of the City of Union.