By Mayor Pro-Tem Dr. Phil Wallace
I would like to begin by thanking the City Council and the citizens of Dillon for allowing me to serve all of you as Mayor Pro-Tem. This role has taken on much of the responsibility of the full-time mayor position due to our current circumstances. It has been an unprecedented year, and while we recover from a pandemic, we also look ahead to a promising future.
Over the past year, the Council has looked forward with plans of future growth, development, downtown revitalization, and quality of life improvements for our community. We have done this while also maintaining a balanced budget, as well as funding significant apportions of our depreciation. At the last Council meeting, the following financial report was outlined:
– 2% Hospitality Fund: $940,000
– Storm Water Account: $58,000
– Water and Sewage: $3.6 millon
– General Fund: $1.8 million
COVID-19 was the headline for most of the year, beginning in March 2020. The City of Dillon, along with every other government agency and private business, had to adapt to the changes on a daily basis. There were several projects that were scheduled to begin prior to COVID, but those were understandably delayed. However, I am proud of all that we were able to accomplish despite this year of uncertainty. The City was able to implement a web-based payment system for water bill payment for citizens. This convenience was discussed prior to COVID, but due to the pandemic necessity, the online payment system quickly became a reality. The MLK, Jr. Boulevard sidewalk and street light project was started and successfully completed during 2020. This project was funded in part by CDBG with a grant of $490,000. The water tank located on Old Race Track Road was upgraded through a RIA grant of $460,000.
The storm water issues were directly addressed at the end of 2020, as three public meetings were held in October to receive valuable input from citizens. Our stormwater master plan study has a great foundation, and is being funded with a FEMA grant of $180,000. This study is scheduled to be completed by AECOM this summer. On the drainage forefront, we have also identified the cause of the water issues in the downtown and First Avenue area. The large pipe feeding into the smaller pipe for street drainage is causing backup during any significant rain accumulation. Going forward, this is going to be a priority, as we are confident we have a solution.
The downtown master plan was completed this year, which was funded with a grant of $25,000 from the Municipal Association of South Carolina. A group of private business owners have taken an interest in our downtown, as well as other areas of the city. Dillon Community Alliance, a dedicated group of citizens, is working with staff members to continue on our pursuit of revitalizing downtown. The citizens of Dillon voted to allow Sunday alcohol sales within the city limits during the General Election, which many believe may help recruit additional restaurants and hotels to our area. This is important to all of us.
There is a lot happening in Downtown Dillon. The city traded a parking lot that was located behind the old Strickland Service Station for ownership of the First Bank building. We are hoping to use this building as a police station once renovations have been completed. First Bank was able to use the parking lot in their new construction.
As you are probably aware, weather has been an ongoing issue with which our staff has been battling. We were very fortunate not to have to deal with hurricane damage in 2020, however heavy and lasting rain has no doubt had an impact. It seems as if every week we have received large amounts of rain at one time and that has been a burden when trying to clean and repair stormwater infrastructure. In January of 2020, the City added two additional staff members to work daily on this project. However, with COVID and the heavy rain combined, we were not able to get as much accomplished as we had hoped.
Another downside of COVID was the effect on our community events. The pandemic interrupted special, annual City events that our citizens enjoy. The Celebrate Main Street Festival was cancelled, the summer concerts held in the South Plaza were cancelled, and summer outdoor movies were also cancelled. Many youth sports programs were either delayed or cancelled due to COVID. Additionally, other festive events such as Holiday Goodness and the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting were modified to adhere to COVID guidelines that were put in place.
I mentioned grants earlier, and they have continued to be a tremendous benefit to us. The City applied for several grants in 2020 and was awarded a total of $3.8 million: $471,000 to rehab and upgrade the water tank located on South 20th through the Department of Commerce; $725,000 to upgrade two of the sewer life stations from CDBG; $1.3 million to relocate two 20-inch sewer mains crossing the Little Pee Dee River on Highway 9 through EDA; and a loan from State Revolving Fund of $1,000,000 at 1% interest over twenty years to rehab and upgrade the Hillside Drive sewer lift station.
The City of Dillon Police Department responded to 8,339 911-calls, made 1,386 traffic stops, and responded to 403 traffic accidents. There were 2,775 incident reports throughout the city, which was down from 3,332 in 2019. Crime was down 12% compared to 2019. There were 950 investigation cases assigned. The annual Trunk or Treat was huge and had over 400 participants. Beginning this year, the Council is hoping to add the replacement of four police cars every year to our yearly budget. We currently have 28 cars on the road. Implementing this practice into our budget would insure that no police car would be over seven years old and go over 100,000 miles.
The City of Dillon Fire Department responded to a total of 175 fire calls. There were 37 structure fires, 63 alarms, 16 gas fires, 13 vehicle fires, and 46 other calls. An average of 17 out of 27 volunteers responded to each call. As you may know, the ISO (Insurance Services Office) creates ratings for fire departments and their surrounding communities, which calculate how well-equipped they are to serve their community. It is based on equipment, response time, and a variety of other things, and the lower the score, the better (scale of 1-10). If you have a low ISO it may bring down the home owner’s insurance as our Fire Department becomes more proficient at fighting fires. Our current ISO rating is a 4, and our new rating should be reduced even more this year and will be announced before summer. The dedication of both our Police force and Fire Department are an asset to our community.
It is hard to believe that we have been leading this community together for two years now. The city is doing well. Quite often, I have people ask me how it is that we live in such an impoverished area, yet we are able to run our local government in such a way that we can successfully balance our budget, as well as fund depreciation, and still have money in the bank to match grants. You have a conservatively-run Council, and the City of Dillon is fortunate for their mindful and uncompromising leadership. We do not spend money that is not in our possession.
Again, I would like to thank the Council and the citizens of Dillon for the opportunity to serve you. This position requires a strong commitment to bring together a shared vision and a well-defined plan. We have a solid foundation here in Dillon, thanks to strong leadership and a dedicated group of people who desire to make this a better place for every single citizen. As a government and a community, we exist to serve one another. We look forward to 2021 with great expectations for the City of Dillon.
By Mayor Pro-Tem Dr. Phil Wallace