UNION — Infrastructure needs, economic development, and health care issues including the opioid crisis were among the challenges that local officials told US House of Representative Fifth District Rep. Ralph Norman that Union County is facing and needs his help in addressing.
Norman met with local officials Thursday morning in the conference room of the City of Union Municipal Building. It was one of two local meetings Norman held Thursday, the other being with local veterans at Palmetto Restaurant that afternoon.
The local officials attending the morning meeting included City of Union Mayor Harold Thompson, Town of Carlisle Mayor Mary Ferguson-Glenn, Union County Supervisor Frank Hart, Union County School District Supervisor Dr. William Roach, Union City Council Member Sonja Craig, Union Public Safety Director Sam White, and Doug Gilliam, Republican candidate for the SC House of Representatives District 42 seat.
Norman said that the purpose of the meeting was to enable local officials to tell him about the issues they are dealing with so that his office can help them deal with them.
Thompson said that, first, the City of Union does not want to see its Community Development Block Grant funding cut. Second, Thompson said that the smaller municipalities of the county — Carlisle, Lockhart, and Jonesville — often have difficulty obtaining such funding because of matching fund requirements. He asked that a formula be developed and put in place that would help those communities obtain that funding.
Gilliam spoke about the conditions of the roads of Union County and beyond and said that rural counties like Union County need more help than they are getting in repairing those roads. As an example of the road repair needs, Gilliam urged Norman to drive down SC 215 from Carlisle to the Richland County line, pointing out that it is riddled with potholes that have been patched and patched and patched.
CDBG funds are often used for infrastructure improvements and Norman said that the federal government is expected to begin allocating $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years beginning next year. Norman urged those present to put their infrastructure needs in writing and have them ready to request their share of that federal funding for those needs. He said they should take pictures of the potholes and other damage to the roads and use that to help make their case and to be persistent in lobbying for that help because if enough people get together they can make it happen.
Ferguson-Glenn also discussed the needs of her town and the difficulties it has in obtaining such funding. Norman asked her about Carlisle’s population and she said it has grown in recent years. He said that a key to getting federal and state funding and, for that matter, attracting business to a community, is population. Norman said that in the case of businesses, they look at the demographics of a community to decide whether or not they will locate there.
Norman said that population growth is occurring in South Carolina which he said has grown from 3.9 million people when he first entered into politics to 5 million today. He said that people are coming to South Carolina from other states such as California which he said lost 145,000 people in the previous quarter of the year.
Gilliam, who is also JROTC Senior Army Instructor at Union County High School, pointed out that affordable housing is needed in Union County. He said that there are teachers who work in Union County, but live outside the county. While they love the county and the cost of living here, Gilliam said they tell him that there is no housing here that’s affordable and doesn’t need work. He said this is holding back the growth of the county.
Hart spoke about health issues facing the county and said the county is working on getting a federally certified health care clinic established here. He said the county is hoping to obtain funding from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for that clinic. Hart said this would include $300,000-400,000 for start-up and $200,000 a year afterwards for indigent care. He asked Norman to write a letter of support for the county’s efforts to HHS.
One health issue of particular concern to Hart is the opioid crisis which he said is not just a health issue and a law enforcement issue, but an economic development issue as well. Hart pointed out that there are 200 jobs in Union County that are not being filled because employers cannot find qualified people to fill them that can pass the drug test. He said that while there is a great deal of money being allocated to treat drug addiction, not enough is being allocated for drug prevention. Hart said that keeping people from getting addicted to drugs would be a far more effective way of fighting the opioid crisis and its effect on the community.
Roach also addressed the impact of the crisis, pointing out that when he became superintendent there was one mental health counselor employed by the district and now there are three and their caseloads are full. He also said the district is now beginning to have to deal with the problems of crack babies, children born to mothers who were using crack cocaine while pregnant.
Norman agreed that more needed to be done in the way of prevention and, along with the others present, agreed that the effort to prevent drug addiction begins in childhood and in the home and that programs should aim to assist that early start to stop the problem before it develops.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.