York Mayor Eddie Lee and Clover Mayor Donnie Grice are among more than 80 other mayors across South Carolina that have signed onto a letter penned by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley calling on Gov. Mark Sanford to reconsider his refusal to go after $700 million in federal stimulus funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
"There are immediate needs for infrastructure in our community," Lee said. "We've both got projects that are ready to begin."
Lee is hoping stimulus funds can be used to finally complete the widening of Hwy. 5 bypass around York, a project that was included in the 1997 Pennies for Progress program.
"It's a road that is dangerous as it exists and it retards economic growth," Lee said. "It is long overdue and it could be funded with stimulus money."
Lee would also like to see stimulus money used to expand the city's wastewater treatment plant. York has already jumped through all the bureaucratic and regulatory hoops at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to secure the permits for the expansion. The project is just waiting on funding, Lee said.
"It will bring jobs and development, plain and simple," he added.
Grice is also hoping to be able to complete infrastructure projects with some of the stimulus money. At the top of Clover's list is replacing aging water and sewer lines, installing a new water tower and road work throughout town.
"We maybe even can use some on the new park," he said, referring to an expansive town park now in the early stages of development that will include four soccer fields, volleyball and basketball courts, a disc golf course, pond, amphitheater and more along Clinton Avenue and Memorial Drive.
"We have a list of about 30 projects we've been compiling for months, even before we knew about the stimulus money," Grice said.
Riley's letter to Sanford opens with a grim assessment of current conditions in South Carolina:
" As you are well aware, we are facing an economic crisis in South Carolina as dark as we have seen in decades. Our states unemployment rate for January 2009, released this week, stood at 10.4%, second highest in the entire United States and the highest in nearly 26 years. Nearly 43,000 of our fellow South Carolinians lost their jobs in January, and all told, there were nearly 228,000 people without work in our state. There is no reason to believe those numbers have improved since January. In fact, our state's Board of Economic Advisors has warned that the unemployment rate could rise to as high as 14% by summer."
It goes on to urge the governor to go after the available funds.
" To reject this funding will mean drastic cuts in services to our citizens and be tragic to South Carolinians who badly need help in this time of crisis.
"As mayors, we know that people dont eat in the long run, they eat every day. We are Republicans, Democrats and independents and our letter has little to do with our political ideology or whether we feel the stimulus package is good national public policy or not. We are writing as citizens of this great state, who as mayors, are focused on our towns and cities, but we speak for the needs of all South Carolinians, whether in our cities or not. The 228,000 South Carolinians who are out of work and the hundreds of thousands more whose jobs, homes and families are threatened by this economic crisis live in our communities, they are our neighbors, and they rightly expect leadership from us in this time of crisis.
So far, Sanford has not responded directly to the letter, but his spokesman Joel Sawyer dismissed it in comments to the Charleston Post and Courier last week, saying "real folks in South Carolina support the governor."
"Real folks in South Carolina live in the 260 towns and cities, and we (mayors) represent them," Lee said. "Real people live there and they have real needs."
In addition to the people living within the city limits of York and Clover, there are another approximately 62,000 York County residents who will also benefit from the projects the mayors want to fund through the stimulus package, Lee said.
"I think we've got a good chance (of Sanford requesting stimulus funds)," Grice said. "He's got a lot of strong guys on the list he'll have to answer to if he doesn't do it."