By Betsy Finklea
Dillon County Administrator Tim Harper spoke to the Latta Rotary Club on Tuesday, May 2nd.
Harper has been in local government for 40 years. His first job was at the Lumber River Council of Governments and since then he has been in local government serving as an administrator. He also worked at Robeson Community College. He served on town council in Rowland for one term and as mayor for two terms. He has been on the elected side and the administrative side.
Harper went to the City of Marion, where he served as city administrator. After serving as city administrator for five years, he went to Marion County as county administrator, where he served 15 years. He has been the Dillon County Administrator since February.
Harper is president of the South Carolina City-County Managers Association.
Harper said there is a great deal going on in Dillon, and there are great opportunities in the county. “It’s time for us to take those opportunities and build on them,” said Harper.
The first is Dillon County’s location which is ideal with the interstate and inland port. He said he had the opportunity to go for the celebration of the fifth anniversary of Inland Port Dillon. One of the things that came out of that meeting was that March was the busiest month ever in the history of Inland Port Dillon.
Other positives he mentioned were rail service and the Tri-County Park. He started working with Marion County when Frank Jones was economic developer, which was when the discussion of the Tri-County Park began. It was the only Tri-County Park in the state at that time that was a true tri-county industrial park. Each one of the counties contributed $50,000 a year. He said if it hadn’t been for Harbor Freight and the Tri-County Park that the Inland Port would have never come to Dillon County. “So, it paid off,” said Harper. “Sometimes things don’t happen overnight, and you have to wait for them. That is a pure example of a good idea that came out of a group of people sitting at a table together to work on,” said Harper.
Harper said there is a great deal of economic development activity going on. Matthew Elvington, the Dillon County Economic Development Director, is now able to put all of his time in economic development after handling multiple roles in the county during the transition to a new administrator. He said Elvington is working hard.
One of the issues that Dillon County has is the infrastructure. Infrastructure, especially in the wastewater area, is lacking. He said they couldn’t tap into a big wastewater user like a Perdue.
Another issue is that Dillon County doesn’t have available buildings for industries to come into. There are two groups looking at building spec buildings, and the county is looking into a spec building. Most industries don’t want to buy land and build. They want to get into something fairly quickly.
Broadband is another good thing happening in the county. Spectrum has come in and put in broadband across the county. Hopefully by the end of June, most of the county will have it. He said if anyone knows places or people who don’t have it, if they will get Harper the names and addresses that he will submit them to Spectrum. There will be some areas they just can’t reach, but the majority of the county will have broadband. Most of this came from federal funds, American Rescue Plan funds, and the county also put money in.
Another big challenge to getting industry is workforce. “We’ve got to have a workforce out there, not only numbers, but trained people for the jobs coming about,” Harper said. They are also having difficulty finding people for public safety jobs such as EMS, firefighters, and law enforcement.
He said the issues that we are seeing in Dillon County and Marion County are not unique to this area and are being seen across the country.
He said the county has open positions that they can’t fill because they can’t find qualified people.
He said industries look at a 60-mile radius for workforce.
The county is also facing is increased costs for fuel and health insurance.
“I’m excited about the opportunities we have in Dillon County. I’m excited to be here,” said Harper.
“There are a lot of positive things happening in Dillon County, and there is a lot to be excited about. We have a good council in Dillon County that really wants to see some good things happening. I’m excited to work with them,” said Harper.
During questions, affordable housing came up. He said this is an issue across the country. Harper said affordable housing is a problem for the workforce that we have. People coming in with these companies, and they want to make sure they have good housing. The workforce is looking for good housing close to the amenities they want to enjoy.
Capital Sales Tax
Harper said he feels a capital sales tax is the fairest tax out there. Everyone who buys something pays it. It’s not just on a property owner. He said when they did a capital sales tax in Marion County, they found that 30 percent of the capital sales tax was being paid by people coming through, and the citizens were paying 70 percent.
Harper said that three weeks ago, a council member called him and asked him if he had heard anything about a facility that was coming into Robeson County, near Dillon County, that was going to be detonating bombs up to 500 lbs. He had not heard about it. He called some of his connections in Robeson County and found out about the hearing. He said Detrice Dawkins went to the meeting and spoke as well as many others in Robeson County.
This group out of Florida are getting explosives from the military that have reached their expiration term and will be detonating it. The access is in South Carolina. The matter has been tabled until June 5th. He said they don’t know the impacts on the soil or the water table. The county attorney will represent Dillon County at the meeting. Harper said they are fighting it hard. He said he talked to the planning director in Robeson County who expressed that he was supportive of it. Harper said he expects that it will become a long, drawn out deal.