Editorial: Getting land use in Laurens County would be a major accomplishment

Maybe King Dixon has been preparing for this all his life. Dixon made a presentation last Monday during a meeting of the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce board of directors. He presented a lot of facts, information and statistics. But what everyone at the meeting will remember is that Dixon’s group wants Laurens County Council to develop and adopt a land use plan. It used to be called zoning. Zoning has been soundly defeated by the voters in Laurens County. More than once. In fact, after the last defeat, County Council adopted an ordinance that council members could not even mention the word during a county meeting. A group of former Chamber board presidents – members of the Past President’s Council – are driving the bus to get land use enacted, but the group has expanded beyond chamber presidents. Dixon is the spokesman. He has presented the results of months of planning as “Let’s Grow Laurens County Together” to numbers of groups, including the media. He has met privately with small groups of county council members so as not to run afoul of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. Those meetings resulted in “spirited debate” Dixon told the chamber board. Dixon is not one to shy from a fight. Following an outstanding athletic (football All-American) and academic career at the University of South Carolina, he served 22 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served as an officer in Vietnam before retiring in 1981 as a lieutenant commander and returning to Laurens. He was athletic director at USC for four years, during which time he oversaw South Carolina joining the SEC and a major expansion of Williams-Brice Stadium. He came back to Laurens again as a still-young 55 year old and has since continued his passionate involvement in community and church affairs. Not to belittle any of the things he’s done – and certainly not his military and combat service – but this next fight is sure to be one of the biggest of his life. Ernie Segars, who retires next month as the Laurens County administrator, didn’t mince words after hearing Dixon’s presentation. “This will be the fight of your life,” Segars told Dixon. “It will be the most vicious, brutal, back-biting thing you can do.” But this is not about Dixon. This is about a plan to move Laurens County forward. To expand our economic and tax bases. To make us a better place to live. To make us the place the next generation of King Dixons will want to live. Business and industries shy away from investing in a county without some sort of land use restrictions because of the uncertainty that brings. A land use plan would protect the value of residents’ property and support growth. Economic growth means more jobs. Higher incomes. More spending. People in Greenwood County spend more than twice as much in retail sales every year as people just across the lake in Laurens County. The per capita income here is $19,153 and $21,053 in Greenwood County. And it shows. Greenwood has two Walmarts, a multi-screen cinema, an uptown community theatre, two successful annual festivals and a thriving state university. Moneys goes where money flows. There are roughly the same number of houses in both Greenwood and Laurens counties. But the average house in Greenwood County is worth $104,900. The average house in Laurens County is worth $81,800. That means 30% more in property tax revenue for Greenwood County from a percentage standpoint although the actual dollar amount raised is based on the tax millage. Laurens County is losing population while South Carolina overall is one of the fastest growing states in the country. The level of education of our residents is lower than neighboring counties and only 14.5% of Laurens County residents have at least an undergraduate degree. Our workforce is aging, our home values are low, our poverty level is high and the health of our residents is seen as a negative for the future. The crime rate and the lack of planning for economic development are also negatives. A comprehensive land use plan is seen as the answer to many of our problems. We strongly agree the county needs such a document in place or our slide will continue. But we don’t see the votes on the current county council – or the courage – to make such a progressive step forward. The Past President’s Council needs to find candidates for council who agree with them and then actively push for the election of these candidates. Until that happens, nothing will change.

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