By: Jeremy Handel, Staff Writer
The Woodruff City Council unanimously approved a proposed $3.9 million budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year at their meeting on June 29 and also heard an update from City Manager Lee Bailey on efforts to attract a new grocery store to the former Bi-Lo site.
Following a brief public hearing with no comment from the public, Bailey presented the budget to the Council. The budget represents an 18% increase compared to last year. Much of the increase is attributed to the cost of purchasing new police vehicles.
Some highlights of the budget include purchasing two new police vehicles, funding a traffic study of Main Street, purchasing a backup generator for City Hall, and a cost-of-living increase for all city employees.
Bailey told the Council that the purchase of the two new police vehicles marks the final purchase in a four-year effort to update the city’s fleet. The city has budgeted $100,000 to purchase two Ford Explorers and equipping the vehicles for police use.
“We’ve come a long way since we started this process to update the fleet,” Bailey told the Council. “The police department should have the vehicles they need after this purchase.”
The Council also approved an agenda item to enter into a finance agreement with Truist Bank to purchase the vehicles.
As part of the budget, the city will also be hiring an outside traffic engineering and design firm to conduct a traffic study on Main Street in Woodruff. The study, by KCI, is expected to identify strategies to help relieve traffic congestion in the area that the city can present to the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT).
Main Street is designated as a state highway, which puts it under the jurisdiction of SCDOT for any changes or updates. Bailey indicated that while Woodruff can identify issues and present them to SCDOT, it is up to the state agency to decide if changes are warranted and approved. The survey is projected to cost $30,000 and will be conducted over a 10-month period this fiscal year.
The budget also includes a 4% cost-of-living raise for all city employees and a longevity bonus for all full-time employees based on their years of service. Also, a 1% bonus for all employees to be paid in December of this year. The city also budgeted for a new generator for city hall for approximately $80,000 and resurfacing the basketball court for $10,000.
Council members praised Bailey for his work on the budget and for seeing the city through the challenges of the pandemic.
“I just want to publicly thank Mr. Bailey for the job he is doing,” Councilmember William Arnold said. “I think our city is very well represented.”
Mayor Kenneth Gist agreed with Arnold’s comments and added his appreciation for the raises and bonuses for employees.
Beyond the budget approval, Bailey also took time during his city manager report to provide the Council with an update on efforts to attract a new grocery store to replace the Bi-Lo. The comments come on the heels of many online comments regarding the need for another store.
“There has been a lot of discussions online about getting a new grocery store. The city does not indulge in responding to social media comments. Still, I wanted to provide some information on that issue,” Bailey said.
Following the closure of the Bi-Lo earlier this year, the city began reaching out to other grocers as soon as they were made aware of the closure.
Bailey told the Council that they have spoken with nearly every major grocery retailer in the area without success. He explained that the building is owned by a gentleman in Florida who is also eager to find a new tenant for the building and has worked with the city to attract a new grocer.
The major sticking points expressed to the city are that the major national chains prefer to own their buildings rather than lease, which is not an option. Grocers also said the market could not support a third grocery store, with Food Lion and the Country Meat Center identified as competition. Bailey said the city continues to pursue another grocer for the space but that it seems for most brands it’s just too soon for them to enter the market.
“I think we are one to two years away from having the numbers to support a new store,” he said. He added that they would continue to speak to grocers in the meantime to try to get another store in town.