Q&A: Aiken City Council members detail goals, hopes for 2019
Editor’s note: This article is the first in the Aiken Standard’s four-part series highlighting goals for local government councils in Aiken County. Aiken City Council will be featured Jan. 1, Aiken County Council will be featured Jan. 2, North Augusta City Council will be featured Jan. 3, and the Aiken County Board of Education will be featured Jan. 4.
Aiken City Council members already know what they want done in 2019. And it’s a full plate.
The Aiken Standard in December asked each City Council member – Mayor Rick Osbon, Gail Diggs, Lessie Price, Dick Dewar, Ed Girardeau, Andrea Gregory and Ed Woltz – what they hope to accomplish in the months to come.
Their respective answers spanned a wide spectrum: housing, infrastructure, crime, the Savannah River Site, traffic congestion, parks and recreation and more.
Below are the questions asked and answers received, some of which are edited for grammar, brevity and clarity.
What are your top three goals for 2019 as a City Council member?
Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon
1) Ensuring opportunity for our business community both new and existing. As City Council moves into 2019 we now have both local incentives and a federal Opportunity Zone to work with to ensure our business culture fosters success.
2) Infrastructure. We must continue to be proactive with replacing older infrastructure in the ground, but we must also continue to find opportunities for alternative routes and better traffic management along our busiest roadways. The Powderhouse connector is a great example of how to move traffic off of Whiskey Road in a controllable manner.
3) Continue to work with the U.S. Department of Energy and our congressional delegation to see that employees at SRS have opportunities for jobs and the loss of MOX is bridged until future missions are announced. For six decades this community has served the national security needs of our country. Now with the possibility of the National Nuclear Security Administration as the future landlord of the site, we have opportunity to grow the workforce and missions. This combined with the letting of contracts for Fort Gordon Army Cyber Command means Aiken must be prepared for growth in the upcoming year.
1) To consolidate all downtown city employees under one roof. This move will save us money.
2) Support a shuttle service for city employees located downtown. This would free up parking spaces for others. I would love to have this service available for events, as well.
3) Plant a seed for Phase II of Generations Park to include soccer fields, baseball fields, etc.
1) Develop a plan to meet housing needs for young professionals in the downtown area by attracting developers and offering incentives.
2) Develop a plan to reduce the parcels of improved or unimproved properties (owned by the city) in residential areas that can be used to help increase our tax base.
3) Develop a strategic plan with implementation goals for economic development opportunities for the east, west and north of Aiken that includes input from potential investors.
1) Continue to relentlessly focus on improvement on infrastructure. Our water, sewer and stormwater structure, which has been poorly maintained in the past, now needs millions of dollars in maintenance and upgrades.
2) Increased support of our public safety department. The new headquarters, which should open after the first of the year, will significantly improve working conditions. Hopefully, this will improve retention, which has been costly to the department. An employee survey will help identify additional measures to improve retention.
3) Support efforts jointly with Aiken County to submit a package for transportation and stormwater projects to the State Infrastructure Board for funds needed to improve the transportation network throughout the city.
1) Have yard debris picked up on schedule through helping our staff have what they need to do so.
2) Start the Powderhouse Road and Whiskey Road connector from Whiskey to Centennial Park, which will not only help the traffic congestion but also the water drainage, as well.
3) Continue to encourage growth, both commercial and residential, on York Street, N/US Highway 1 toward Interstate 20.
1) I would like to see the development of the Aiken Mall begin. It’s important for us on Council, the mayor and city staff to urge the developer to provide a more accurate timeline when it comes to demolition and ramp-up of this particular project. The city has a vested interest in this project, and the taxpayer has already provided the financial portion required by the developer to resume the plans that were presented over a year ago. I look forward to seeing this project begin and becoming the “destination” we have heard it will become for some time now.
2) I am anxious to continue discussions alongside the county to see the Whiskey Road stormwater issues addressed. I am specifically excited to see the potential projects around the Southside that will be a result of addressing these longtime issues on Whiskey Road. Stormwater and ditches on Whiskey Road are a priority for me this year and every year you allow me to be on Council. This needs to be addressed.
3) I look forward to further discussing and tabling the possibility for downtown parking and providing all of the citizens of the city of Aiken a solid, consistent and well-thought-out plan. One that will articulate how we can resolve our parking issues downtown. This plan should and will cultivate the beautiful, traditional, aesthetic nature of the downtown area that the entire city enjoys and will continue to congregate in.
1) First and foremost, the city needs to continue the efforts started this year to inspect, repair and replace our sewer lines and water lines. These are two major parts of our infrastructure, which have suffered from decades of neglect. Without excellent water and sewer, the city cannot maintain property values or sustain growth. It is a multifaceted endeavor. In order to do this, the city has to insure funds are in the yearly budget (and in future years) to bring these up-to-date and prepare for the future.
2) My second goal is to research how Aiken can become more efficient, maintain and even increase services to our citizens while attempting, always, to cut costs. The people of Aiken deserve to get the most for their tax dollars. Our job as City Council is to insure that this is happening. I will challenge every department head to introduce ways in which to improve performance of the department they run at each budget meeting.
3) The third goal will be for the city to develop and sustain a department that will vigorously attract businesses into Aiken. We need to aggressively recruit good businesses of all sizes and types. North, South, East, and West (along with downtown) can all use growth and jobs that come with these businesses.
What is one issue you’d like to see addressed and resolved by the end of 2019?
Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon
We will continue to work for the betterment of our city and our citizens on all fronts, but in 2019 I would like to see the Aiken Mall project start to take shape and offer some new retail opportunities.
I would like to see, and I expect, a reduction in crime in District 1 after the relocation of our Public Safety headquarters on Beaufort Street. There will be many opportunities for residents to participate in programs and develop positive relationships with our officers.
The city needs to sell some of its properties (City Hall, property on Newberry Street and many others) and reinvest funds immediately.
One thing I would like to see accomplished this year is a change to City Council organization. I will ask Council to place on the November city ballot a measure to return to the 4-2-1 district allocation. This allows each citizen a direct vote on four of the seven members of Council. This system elects four members of Council by district; two members at large; and a mayor. If Council does not approve my request, it can be accomplished by a citizen petition. The goal of this measure is to increase voter power over who governs the city.
Aside from finishing the Silver Bluff Road expansion, which the city actually has very little to do with, I would like to have the issue of consistency with our yard debris solved in the next year and help our staff get the workforce and equipment needed such that the pine straw, leaves, and limbs will picked up on schedule throughout the year.
One of many issues that we need to address by the end of next year is our solid waste and yard waste services. I asked in the fourth quarter of 2018 that we table this topic, again. We have discussed this topic on numerous occasions and no decisions have been made. It’s time to decide how we will consistently provide one of the biggest services the city offers to its citizens. Staff provided Council four to five options on how we can proceed with a solid program. Council requested that staff attach pricing to each option and also look into privatizing the service and obtain a quote on the service we are currently providing. Council was presented with pricing of the various options and a recommendation. We are moving along with numbers that will allow Council to make a sound and informed decision on this service. 2019 should see a service that will be more consistent, appropriate, and balanced.
The one thing we need to resolve in 2019 is the Whiskey Road, Powderhouse connector. This has been discussed for years. We either need to make a decision or table it. We need to pick a route, commit to it and start things moving forward. If council had done this 20 years ago it would be finished, in use and most likely cost half of what it will be now. It’s time to move forward.