DARLINGTON, S.C. – The Darlington County Council gave unanimous preliminary approval Monday to an ordinance that will suspend South Carolina’s blue laws in the unincorporated areas of the county.
If the measure gets final approval, which is expected, it will allow county businesses that are currently prohibited from opening before 1:30 p.m. on Sundays to open on Sunday mornings if they choose to do so.
The measure will give businesses in the unincorporated areas the same opportunity that businesses in the cities of Hartsville and Darlington already have under those cities’ ordinances, officials said.
State law gives counties the authority to suspend blue laws limiting Sunday operating hours for businesses in their jurisdictions.
The measure recognizes the convenience to the public of shopping on Sundays, and it acknowledges a desire to keep businesses in the county competitive with businesses in surrounding areas where blue laws already are suspended.
And it includes a provision protecting the right of workers who object to working on Sunday for religious reasons or to attend worship services to refuse to work on Sundays. Those rights also are protected under state law, which also provides for penalties for employers who violate the provision.
Councilman Robert L. “Bobby” Kilgo Jr. of Darlington asked for the ordinance in February. On Monday, he offered an amendment to the measure to change some of the wording in the ordinance from “church service hours” and “church of his or her choice” to “worship service hours” and “worship center of his or her choice” to cover other places of worship in addition to Christian churches. The amendment passed unanimously.
A final vote on the ordinance will come on third reading, likely in May.
The council also gave second-reading approval to an ordinance to implement an installment program for payment of county property taxes.
If approved, the measure will give citizens the option of paying their taxes on real property in installments rather than having to pay the full amount all at once. The measure will apply to real property only, not to vehicle taxes.
Under state law, the program will require taxpayers who sign up for it to begin prepaying their property taxes before tax notices are issued, according to County Administrator Charles Stewart. “You do not pay after you get the tax notice. You prepay,” Stewart said.
Two council members voted against the ordinance, Le Flowers of Darlington and Dannie Douglas of Society Hill.
Flowers, who said he would vote to pass the ordinance on third reading if it passed on second reading, said he is concerned about the cost of implementing and operating the program.
Stewart said upgrading computer software in the Darlington County Treasurer’s Office to implement the program will require a one-time up front cost of about $8,700 and about $1,200 per year thereafter to continue the program.
Douglas asked if the program will require additional personnel to administer it. Stewart said it should not unless a large number of taxpayers opt to sign up for it.
A final vote on third reading is expected in May.
If the council adopts the ordinance by July 1, it can go into effect in 2020, according to Stewart.
In other business, council members heard from some county residents about drainage problems in an area of South Hartsville. Diane B. Smith and Mary Washington, who live on Flicker Lane, said their neighborhood floods frequently. Smith, who said she has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said the flooding has gotten worse since heavy rains in 2016 triggered flooding in the area.
Smith said the flooding has resulted in property damage at her home.
The two women said they had talked with officials with the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) about the problem. Flicker Lane is a state road, according to county officials.
Smith said DOT told her the flooding is resulting from a problem on a nearby privately owned property and that the agency would need the permission of the owner to go onto the property to try to correct the problem.
“That is a DOT road,” Stewart said. He said there is little the county can do but to talk with agency officials.