Several hundred Sumter County residents gathered in Myrtle Beach during the weekend for the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce's 49th-annual Chamber Retreat under the tagline "Inspire the Future."
Here are five takeaways from the weekend …
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Here are five takeaways from the weekend event:
1. Census 2020
The 2020 census is coming, and it's going to be important to the future of the region. Residents should begin receiving census packets in mid-March and are asked to complete them by April 1, according to Jason Stoddard, project manager for the City of Sumter. For the first time starting in 2020, residents may complete census forms online, with other options by phone or by a requested paper form.
For every resident who does not complete the census, there's an estimated reduction of $15,000 per resident in federal funding to the area during the data's 10-year lifespan. An estimated 25% of Sumter residents did not initially self-report their census forms in 2010. That means census staffers had to then reach out by phone, in person or, after continued refusal to participate, public records, to count those households as accurately as possible.
For every 1% of the population that is undercounted, about $1.6 million in federal assistance to South Carolina and our community is lost, totaling around $16 million over the 10 years.
Census information is also a key factor in store placement decisions for large chains such as Target and Olive Garden.
2. Team Sumter
"The relationship between the city (of Sumter) and the county is the envy of every community in the state," Sumter County Council Chairman Jim McCain said, sitting alongside City of Sumter Mayor Joe McElveen.
McCain and McElveen discussed numerous completed, ongoing and upcoming projects in the area, including road improvements, a major renovation of the Palmetto Tennis Center including the creation of a red clay court, initial plans for renovating the Sumter Opera House and the blight reduction of abandoned, uninhabitable properties in Shannontown and other areas.
"I get more calls about this than anything we've done," McElveen said in reference to the blight reduction project. "Other communities, especially ones the size of Sumter, haven't been able to get this done."
McCain has previously said removing blighted properties has always been one of his top priorities.
3. McElveen's departure
McElveen addressed the public for the first time since announcing he would not run for re-election in November after serving 20 years as mayor.
"I was asked this week why I ran for mayor the first time," McElveen said. "There were all these people writing (negative) letters to the editor to The Item about Sumter, and I wanted to do something about it. People still write some of them, but they're normally about national stuff these days...Thank you for allowing me to be mayor of my hometown for 20 years."
McElveen received a standing ovation.
4. Superintendent's priorities
Sumter School District Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox presented about her first year as superintendent. Martin-Knox, who considers herself a "child-first" leader, said she's "in (Sumter) for the long haul, as long as there's work to be done."
Martin-Knox noted Sumter's graduation rate of 83.7% is above the state average, but the 26.1% of children prepared for kindergarten is below.
"It's not good enough. Until we're at 100%, it's not good enough," she said.
Martin-Knox also stressed the importance of giving students an education that leaves them with multiple options upon high school graduation - either college, career or military.
5. Education reform and Santee Cooper
State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, addressed the ongoing legislative session in Columbia. The mayor's son noted education reform and the potential sale of Santee Cooper as the two most prominent topics so far.
Regarding education, McElveen said, "We'd like to see teacher pay rise again after 4% growth last year...I don't think (an education bill) will fix education in our state, but I think it will move our state forward, take it a step at a time."
Regarding Santee Cooper, the state-owned electric and water utility that lawmakers have been debating whether to sell after a failed nuclear reactor project left the state owing $3.6 billion, McElveen said, "Bad decisions were made at Santee Cooper, but there is value in a state utility. Volvo wouldn't be here if it weren't for Santee Cooper...No one has convinced me that the debt isn't going to fall back on the ratepayers if it's sold...Selling should be the last option, but I'm open to the idea of selling it if it's the right thing to do for South Carolina."
McElveen also said exempting military retirement from state income is another one of his top priorities, noting that it's already partially exempt, and it would only cost the state about $10 million to make military retirement fully exempt.
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