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Sidewalks discussion continues in Johnsonville, another funding source possible
[February 20, 2013]

Sidewalks discussion continues in Johnsonville, another funding source possible

JOHNSONVILLE, Feb 20, 2013 (The Weekly Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Public officials gathered for a meeting at the Johnsonville Public Library Friday, called by Johnsonville native Mel Bobo, to hear a funding proposal from a representative of the Pee Dee Council of Governments regarding an ongoing initiative by Bobo to install new sidewalks and lighting in the city.

Johnsonville Mayor Steve Dukes, Florence County Councilman Roger Poston and Johnsonville City Councilman Patrick Nettles, as well as Florence County School District Five's special education coordinator Beth Snowden, attended the meeting. At Bobo's request, Shannon Munoz of the Pee Dee Council of Governments presented a possible route for funding a sidewalks project in the city.

Over the last two years, Bobo has worked with council to develop a plan to have sidewalks and lighting installed on South Railroad Avenue and Stuckey Street. In January, council told Bobo essentially that until more funding could be found for the estimated $763,000 project, nothing would be done.

Bobo said Friday he wanted it known that he never had any intentions of "sticking" the city with that much cost, contrary to what a circulating opinion suggested.

He said in January and in preceding meetings that a $400,000 SCDOT Enhancement Grant, were the city to actually be awarded the grant, would cover much of the project. He said he would continue to search for grants to cover the remaining portion and the only reoccurring cost to the city for maintaining the new lights would be about $860 per month.

Munoz said, from her perspective, the best option for the city to pursue for further funding lie in the South Carolina Department of Commerce's Neighborhood Revitalization Program, a competitive grant system aimed at funding the revitalization of residential neighborhoods that are within walking distance of a downtown or business district area.

The maximum award under the program, which the city would apply for, is $375,000. The city would have to match 10 percent of the funds. A bit of a catch in the program, at least in Johnsonville's situation, is that the program requires more to be done than just installing sidewalks and lighting, Munoz said. The city would also have to propose to conduct some other type of work in the area such as replacing water lines, sewage lines, drainage, or clearing vacant lots to qualify for the grant.

Munoz said she thought the pedestrian safety issues as well as other conditions in the area of South Railroad Avenue fit the program's requirements well. She suggested that, if the city decides to pursue the grant, the proposal delegate sidewalks and lighting for Stuckey Street to be carried out in a separate, second phase.

Dukes told Bobo that the work he has done and the persistence he has shown in advancing what Bobo calls "Project Sidewalks" is admirable and duly noted. However, the mayor said if a sidewalks and lighting project were to be pursued, it would most likely not be in the South Railroad Avenue area first.

"We appreciate everything you're doing," he said. "But, probably, some of our priorities is not South Railroad Avenue. I think one of the priorities would be Broadway Street ... because of what the Department of Commerce strives and keeps bringing up to us what you have to do to make your town attractive for business. We have many, many walkers that are coming from Pine Street and that side of town. We would probably focus more towards Pine Street." Dukes said he was not speaking for the whole of council but from his own opinion.

Bobo said he wanted the notion to be clear that he did not think other areas of town did not need renovation. He said since he and other volunteers from the South Railroad Avenue area followed all parliamentary procedure and asked for the sidewalks first, that area should be the core of any future project.

"Although our conclusions may differ ... mine and the mayor's ... in priority, my thing is not seeing South Railroad Avenue dropped from the project," he said.

The mayor said the city would be "ashamed" not to consider South Railroad Avenue eventually, but it may not be at the top of the list.

Applications for the Neighborhood Revitalization Program's funding will be accepted in September.

Munoz will attend the city's next council meeting on March 5 to speak to the rest of council about the program.

___ (c)2013 The Weekly Observer (Hemingway, S.C.) Visit The Weekly Observer (Hemingway, S.C.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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