2017 State of the Town
Three years ago, I was sworn in as Mayor for the Town of Chapin. I was sincerely humbled and truly believed it was an honor to be Mayor of such a wonderful community. To this day, my feelings remain the same. I was totally committed to serving the residents and businesses in a way that would restore financial responsibility, accountability, integrity and pride in town hall and allow the community to see the evidence in all aspects of town operations. The central focus of my comments at that time was to judge me for the results of my actions and not what you read or hear, and I stand by that statement today.
I’m proud to say that this effort has been realized through commitment and the hiring of a qualified and dedicated team of professionals who not only have the education and experience, but also have a desire and true commitment to serve this community with a “customer first” attitude. For that alone, I want to thank each town hall employee for their support and allowing me the opportunity to work by your side for the last three years. It’s been a lot of hard work and every bit of an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
I would also like to thank the many people whom I’ve never met before, that would come up to me in a parking lot, a grocery store, a sidewalk and say to me “keep doing a good job,” or send me an email or handwritten thank you note for doing certain things, as well as those who would also encourage me through their kind words.
We’ve certainly had some challenges the past few years, but I believe we have seen a change for the good. We’re at a time in our country where people feel divided, but I believe it’s time to change our attitude in a way that communicates love and respect for our neighbors, a willingness to be truthful, show humility, and exercise maturity. When we change our attitude for the good, others will also change their attitudes for the good. I am sure my fellow Council members join me in acknowledging our blessings, and I encourage us all to represent this community in a positive manner and to discourage those individuals who desire to remain negative about our town.
God has blessed Chapin with many wonderful people and businesses and for that we are so very grateful.
It’s no big surprise to most people that change in any situation is difficult for some… and I get that. I also recognize that change for the sake of change is not always the best path. However, some change is simply inevitable because of the number people choosing to make Chapin their home. It’s a testament to what this community is and what it has to offer - one of the best school districts in the state, if not the country; beautiful Lake Murray which offers some of the best scenery and recreation imaginable; the wonderful quality of life in a small town; and most of all, just good people everywhere. People want to live here – whether it’s to raise families or retire so they can enjoy these wonderful amenities.
As leaders of this community, we have a responsibility to plan and accommodate for this growth. To sit idly by and do nothing is irresponsible and dangerous. Chapin is no longer a secret. We need to embrace change and control the growth by being pro-active with our planning. Being reactive to change is putting our town at a disadvantage and ultimately is more expensive in the long run.
As I begin my fourth year as Mayor of Chapin, I want to thank members of Council, town hall employees, residents and businesses for supporting many of the initiatives that have come to fruition. Here is a brief recap of what we’ve been able to accomplish in the past three year:
1. Implemented a new financial system with greater accountability and better stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
We have made a number of changes designed to increase accountability and transparency as well as make sure that accurate and timely reports were made available to our council members and our citizens. We implemented a new accounting Chart of Accounts, posted all financial transactions of town hall operations online to provide full transparency, and put in checks and balances, such as pre-approval by the Mayor for all expenses and /or purchases and reviewing every check written prior to its being distributed.
The town works and operates within the approved budget. And because of our greater controls and good stewardship, we now have established a reserve fund in the General Fund Budget greater than $700 hundred thousand dollars over a three year period. By following these new practices and implementing suggestions from our past audits, our 2015 audit detailed an excellent opinion of financial responsibility. We have made significant progress in this area, and I am grateful for our team’s efforts and proud that we have corrected one of the most glaring problems we faced when I took office.
2. Established an organizational structure that identifies
certain responsibilities that are aligned with the employees’ expertise and experience with regard to specific town hall operations.
Since 2014, we have hired highly qualified and experienced individuals to lead and fill different positions within town hall. We split duties for our finances, zoning and business licenses to be handled by different individuals. We added new capacity to deal with communications and community development. We updated or wrote new job descriptions for every position in town hall. We are regularly conducting performance reviews and providing additional training opportunities to keep our staff informed of the best practices and changes in their respective areas of expertise.
3. Improved and increased communication to our citizens, the media, county and state governments through a number of ways.
Keeping people better informed has been a priority since Day One, and we immediately added the weekly Mayor’s Message which is printed by the Chapin Times and Lake Murray News and now also included online and by email. There has been a major update of the Town’s website to allow for community calendars, citizen notifications and alerts, archives of our council minutes and agendas, and several other features designed to keep our citizens and businesses better informed.
We have added social media channels to our communication mix. Staff regularly maintain Facebook and Twitter accounts for the Town, Mayor, Police Department, Labor Day Festival and Community Service Day.
We have an increased emphasis on formal press releases for news, public meetings and special events as well as media advisories for emergencies, such as boil water notifications or crime updates. And starting later this month, a new quarterly mailing that will inform residents and businesses of how Council voted on issues.
Tonight, the Council will vote to finalize the codification of our Municipal Code, and it will then be put online for all to see. This has been a multi-year effort that will allow Council members, our town hall staff and the general public to be better informed about the laws that regulate our town.
4. Saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by bringing the utility operations in-house versus contracting with outside vendors.
We now have dedicated town employees with a wide array of certifications and professional credentials managing our water and sewer operations. This has allowed us to be more responsive to our customers by addressing issues in a timely manner, whether it’s a routine maintenance issue or an emergency situation like a line break or system disruption.
Our utilities employees have upgraded many of our pump stations and repaired the security fences around lift stations. We have significantly upgraded our maintenance equipment and even taken on handling locator duties. We are looking to hire another engineer to help us digitally map and model our system for improved effectiveness and management.
We are in the process of doubling the size of Chapin’s wastewater treatment plant to accommodate the current and future sewer demand in our community. Engineers are designing a new plant that will use better technology to ensure we are able to meet the strict environmental regulations DHEC has set for wastewater treatment in our state. If preliminary reviews go well this spring and summer, we should see construction begin in the fall.
5. Focused attention on the appearance of our Town.
This is one area that is vitally important and one in which we had a bit of a learning curve to understand what the Town’s responsibility was in comparison to Lexington County and SCDOT. We have been working as best we can to keep areas mowed along our roadways, in the Beaufort Street area, out by the Interstate and at Town Hall. The reality is we can no longer manage this with external support to the responsiveness we desire or our citizens demand. Therefore, we included in our 2017 budget the ability to hire two Public Works employees who will be dedicated to grounds maintenance and beautification throughout the town limits. These individuals will also be providing our Utilities department with the grounds maintenance support they need at our pump stations, wastewater treatment plant and along our sewer easements.
We have also made significant upgrades to our Zoning Ordinance to address site development, architectural standards, landscaping, sign permits and stepped up our enforcement practices as it relates to our Town’s appearance.
6. Fostered more community involvement.
As some of our long-serving volunteers have opted to step down from our Planning Commission, Architectural Review Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, we have recruited new volunteers that have experience in their respective fields as it relates to the specific commission or board. We have also enlisted additional support and feedback for the benefit of our town by establishing some new volunteer groups, such as the Chapin Citizens Advisory Group, Chapin Business Alliance, Chapin Historical Society and the Chapin Arbor Day Foundation. Each of these groups have members that are passionate about making our community better.
7. Addressed our growing infrastructure needs.
As to enhancing our infrastructure in town, we have applied for and received additional grant money allowing the Town to finally complete the Lexington Ave. Streetscape project which began around 2008. In addition, we have secured grant money to extend the sidewalk along Lexington Ave. from Chapin United Methodist Church to Fairhaven subdivision and to complete the sidewalk from the old Community Theatre to Town Hall.
Planning for an expanded Columbia Avenue (S-48) continues to move towards federal and state approvals, and I have been extensively involved in the discussions regarding the design and impact it will have on our community for years to come. We were also involved in ensuring road improvements were made to accommodate the Publix entrance along Lexington Avenue to ensure better traffic flow.
8. Made enhancements to our Police Department to account for growth in our community.
Last year we hired Seth Ziegler to serve as our Police Chief, and he has brought a wealth of experience, leadership and ideas that are benefiting our town. We also created and established a new position with the department – a Community Relations Officer. Troy Crump has transitioned into this new role and is doing a wonderful job.
This past fall, the Police Department held the first Citizens Academy, a six-week program that allowed local citizens to learn more about the inner workings of our public safety and judicial system. This inaugural class had 12 participants, and I was proud to be a part of the first graduating class.
Capt. Crump also revamped the annual Chapin Night Out to a fall event which increased participation and provided a family-friendly event that promoted various aspects of public safety and community involvement. It was a big success, and I know the community looks forward to this getting better every year.
9. Recruit and retain more businesses to provide increased investment and job opportunities for our community.
From an economic position, Chapin has been fortunate to welcome several new business in recent years, and we continue to see more businesses looking at Chapin as a viable location. By gaining new businesses and supporting our existing businesses ability to expand and grow, there is increased opportunity for our citizens to have additional choices and it creates more local jobs.
Obviously the addition of the Chapin Crossing shopping center and its anchor tenant Publix has made a significant impact. But let’s not forget investments made by Bi-Lo, and businesses that relocated or came to Chapin as a result of some of this development activity.
Health care related businesses have seen an uptick in Chapin in recent years, with the addition of Chapin Oral Surgery and Maxofacial practice, Dr. O’Leary and Chapin Rehabilitation’s expansions and the new orthopedic medical practice that recently broke ground and started construction on Columbia Avenue.
New restaurants have come to Chapin as well, with J Peters Grill, Pompeii Oven and the Coffee Shelf recently joining the mix. Sonic Drive-In is nearing completion of its construction, and representatives of Zaxby’s have been in discussion with our Zoning Administrator.
As you can see, Chapin is making meaningful progress in its operations and services for our citizens as well as a community in general. We must continue to press forward and do all we can to keep this positive momentum going for the benefit of our community.
I am proud to represent Chapin and regularly participate in a number of meetings, events and ceremonies to ensure that our Town’s best interests are addressed and supported. Since becoming Mayor, I have enjoyed participating in Chapin business ribbon cuttings, ground breakings or anniversary celebrations as well as Eagle Scout ceremonies. I am frequently asked to speak to various businesses, civic organizations, neighborhood groups and churches about what’s happening in town.
As I mentioned earlier, I have been actively involved in meeting and communicating with SCDOT and Lexington County officials about our roads and transportation needs. I serve as an Advisory Board member for the Central Midlands Council of Governments (COG), am active in the Midlands Regional Mayors’ Forum and serve as an ex-officio member of the Greater Chapin Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, in which I attend their monthly meetings. Finally, I have the privilege to be part of the Chapin Elementary School Improvement Council.
I have also attended the annual Municipal Association of SC (MASC) conferences as well as graduated from the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Governments. There is a lot more to being Mayor or a Council member than attending a monthly meeting, and I think this gives you a flavor of what types of activities I have been engaged in as your mayor.
There are many other initiatives that have been proposed to council which have been stalled and/or rejected for one reason or another. In an effort to align the town council with the heart of the community and understand the importance of these objectives, I have asked certain town hall employees to reach out to each council member and invite them to be actively involved in the discussion and planning of the various outstanding initiatives. It is my hope that council will be open-minded, engaged and actively involved in bringing resolutions that will improve and enhance the quality of life for the entire Chapin community.
At the February Town Council, I will propose a resolution asking each of us on Council to publicly acknowledge, at a minimum, the following:
- I commit to working with town hall employees to get an understanding of their job and responsibilities.
- I agree to be actively engaged in proposing and setting policy as a result of attending town hall meetings, employee engagement and conversation on important issues with residents and businesses.
- I agree to be involved in community events and promoting the positive aspects of this community.
- I agree to communicate with the Council/Mayor on all aspects of defined goals and objectives for the Town of Chapin.
- I refuse to engage in negative rumors without substantiating the facts of the matter.
- I commit to propose and implement ideas that will improve and enhance the quality of life for Chapin residents and businesses.
- When voting on matters of importance, I will put the interest of the Town of Chapin first as opposed to one’s personal agenda.
- I commit to transparency on all issues, which in turn, is my responsibility as an elected official.
In summary, God has blessed the Chapin community and we have a responsibility to honor and be thankful for these blessings.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you and this community for the last three years. You have my word that I will continue to work hard in 2017 and represent this community with integrity.
God Bless Chapin!
Mayor Skip Wilson