County supporting STEM Summer Camp

By: By Charles Warner -

UNION COUNTY — An allocation for a program to help middle school students with math and science, repeal of the Road User Fee, and funding for some outside agencies were among the items on the agenda of Wednesday’s special meeting of Union County Council.

STEM Summer Camp

Council voted unanimously to allocate $500 for a STEM Summer Camp this year at Sims Middle School.

In presenting the proposal to council, Supervisor Frank Hart said that the Community Indicators Study had recommended the creation of task forces to study issues facing Union County and develop proposals for dealing with them. One of those task forces is the Union County Education Task Force and Hart said that, at the request of Union County School District Superintendent Dr. William Roach, the task force has created a pilot summer school program for middle school students. The program will focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) criteria.

A project outline handed out by Hart states that the project will be for four weeks beginning Monday, June 12 and ending Thursday, July 6. Classes will be be Monday-Thursday, though there will be no class on Tuesday, July 4.

The program will be held at Sims Middle School and will serve “20 rising seventh and eighth graders who have been identified by Sims Middle School teachers as needing additional instruction in math and science to keep them at grade level.”

Instruction will be provided by two Sims science teachers and the outline states that the Upstate Workforce Board, which is sponsoring the program, will donate in-kind labor providing staff members to give presentations, serve as chaperones on field trips, and help with planning and other logistical issues.”

Transportation to and from the school and for field trips will be provided.

Students participating in the program will spend two days a week using science and math skills to build robots. The other two days will be for educational activities, including workshops about nutrition and exercise, soft skills instruction, presentations about workforce opportunities in the STEM fields, and field trips to tour local companies which offer jobs in the STEM fields.

The outline states that “students will practice their math and science skills, keeping them at grade level. Students will learn about the importance of doing well in STEM subjects and the opportunities it can bring them in the job market. Students will learn the benefits of exercise and good nutrition and will get soft-skills training.”

Road User Fee Repeal

In other business, council voted unanimously to approve second reading of an ordinance repealing the Road User Fee.

The Road User Fee was one of two fees levied by Union County in 2015 as a result of the county assuming responsibility for the Union County EMS which had previously been operated by the Union Hospital District. The county took over the EMS after the district filed for bankruptcy in 2014 and the rest of its constituent parts — Wallace Thomson Hospital (renamed Union Medical Center), Ellen Sagar Nursing Home (renamed Ellen Sagar Nursing Center) and Carolinas Health Associates — were taken over by the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.

The Road User Fee ordinance approved by Union County Council in 2015 levied a $15 fee on all automobiles. At the time of its passage, the fee was projected to generate $400,000 in revenue. The funds generated by the fee went to the county road department allowing the county to divert an equal amount of tax revenue from the department to the EMS.

The other fee passed at that time was the Public Safety Fee which levied an annual $25 fee on private homes and an annual $50 fee on commercial structures. The Public Safety Fee was also projected to generate $400,000 with those funds going directly to EMS.

In 2016, council approved the repeal of the Public Safety Fee with the revenue it generated being replaced with tax millage the county had accumulated through increases permitted it by the Consumer Price Index. The millage had been accumulated over the course of three years prior to the repeal of the fee.

A year later, the Road User Fee is now on its way to repeal as well.

When council approved first reading of the repeal ordinance in May, Supervisor Frank Hart described the action as council’s first step toward keeping its promise to repeal the Road User Fee. Hart pointed out that the county had committed to repealing the Road User Fee if the people of Union County approved a one-cent sales tax.

In November 2016, voters in Union County approved a referendum authorizing the levying of a one-cent sales and use tax beginning May 1, 2017.

The ordinance implementing the levy states that revenue generated by the tax will be collected in a Local Sales and Use Tax Fund for the county consisting of the Property Tax Credit Fund and the County/Municipal Revenue Fund. It further states that 71 percent of the funds collected will be allocated to the Property Tax Credit Fund and must be used for property tax relief for county taxpayers. The other 29 percent will be allocated to the County/Municipal Revenue Fund and may be used for county/municipal operations.

At the time of the referendum, the SC Department of Revenue estimated that the tax would generate an estimated $1.2 million within the county. Of that, Union County would receive an estimated $570,840 for property tax relief and an estimated $156,600 for county operations. The county’s municipalities would would receive an estimated $281,160 for property tax relief and an estimated $191,400 for municipal operations.

In addition, the levying of the tax also meant that 25 percent of all revenues raised by it would come from outside the county. This is through a statewide fund which collects local option sale tax revenue from counties where it generates more than $5 million and distributes it to other counties.

While the bulk of the funds the county receives from one-cent sales and use tax will go to property tax relief for county taxpayers, Hart said in May that a portion of those funds would be used to support the EMS, replacing the Road User Fee funds which will be eliminated when the fee itself is eliminated July 31.

Outside Agencies

Wednesday’s meeting also featured a discussion of the proposed 2016-2017 budget which council will vote on at its June meeting.

During the discussion, Hart also asked council for its “consensus” on providing funding to the Union County Chamber of Commerce, Union County Historical Society which owns and operates the Union County Museum and Cross Key House, and Union County Fire & Rescue. The consensus that emerged from that discussion was that those outside agencies would receive the following funding from the following sources:

• Union County Chamber of Commerce — $20,000 from the Union County Economic Development Fund.

• Union County Historical Society — $40,000 from the Local Hospitality Tax.

• Union County Fire & Rescue — $25,000 from the Emergency Medical Services Budget.
For 7th and 8th grade students at Sims

By Charles Warner

Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.

Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.