York County’s $89.8 million bond issue would reduce overflow, of trash and people

Eric Rekitt, York County Assistant Public Works Director, stands next to bales of plastic soda bottles at The York County Public Works Recycling Center in York.
Eric Rekitt, York County Assistant Public Works Director, stands next to bales of plastic soda bottles at The York County Public Works Recycling Center in York. aburriss@heraldonline.com

York County’s recycling center has too much trash.

The main sorting center off S.C. 5 near York took in an estimated 10,000 tons of waste last year from county collection sites and municipal recycling programs. That total isn’t just good for the environment, it serves as a revenue stream for the county after residents’ refuse is processed to be reused by manufacturers.

But the process is partly hampered by the available facilities. The nearly 30-year-old pre-fabricated structure housing the county’s recycling operations is only partly enclosed, with mounds of recyclables sitting outdoors exposed to the elements. Mixed items have to be separated and sorted by hand, using any available inmates from the York County prison.

It’s a labor-intensive and time-consuming process that sometimes leads York County’s public works department to outsource the work to other vendors.

“We can make $80 a ton if we process it here,” said Eric Rekitt, York County’s assistant public works director. “Now, we’re making $5 a ton if it’s sent off somewhere else.”

The recycling center is just one York County building slated for improvements if voters approve an $89.8 million bond issue in a countywide referendum on Nov. 3.

Of that sum, $22 million will go toward improvements to the recycling center and other space needs at the public works department. The bond would also pay for an expansion and security-related improvements to the Moss Justice Center ($38.5 million), the Family Court center at the county’s Heckle Boulevard complex ($26 million) and two magistrate’s offices in Clover and Fort Mill ($565,000 and $2.1 million, respectively).

Like with the recycling center, all these county buildings face aging or outmoded facilities that can’t handle the number of people or equipment they’re expected to handle in a rapidly growing county.

Getting the word out

York County can’t spend public money on its own to advocate or campaign for the referendum, so the task has fallen to a private citizens group called Citizens and Business for York County. Advocates are practicing their own form of recycling: the group has blanketed the county with generic “Vote Yes” signs left over from a previous referendum on Sunday alcohol sales.

This year’s vote follows on the heels of an earlier ballot initiative in 2006 that proposed funding for many of the same projects and more besides, but at a then-lower cost of $75 million. Voters rejected that initiative by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

Chet Miller, a supporter of the “Yes” campaign who also served on the facilities committee that proposed the list of bond projects to the York County Council earlier this year, said the earlier vote played a part in how the county reviewed projects this time.

“We needed a justification for all of the facilities on the wish list,” Miller said. “We said at the beginning that $100 million would be our limit.”

The committee narrowed its list of recommendations based on a balance of cost and need. The list is also geographically balanced, with projects that touch on four different cities and towns, but Miller denies that regional considerations played in part in which projects got selected.

“This was based on priorities, not ‘let’s put some money over here,’ ” Miller said.

The group is organizing a string of public meetings this week ahead of the vote, which coincides with municipal elections in eight York County towns and cities. Members of the committee will hold community meetings at:

▪ 5:15 p.m. Monday in the Sylvia Theater, 27 N. Congress St., York (a “rally” format featuring bluegrass and gospel music)

▪ 6:30 p.m. Monday at Tega Cay Elementary School, 2185 Gold Hill Road

▪ 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Magnolia Room at Laurel Creek, 4017 Laurel Creek Drive, Rock Hill

If approved, York County would have to raise taxes to pay back the debt. The increase on an average $100,000 home would be $2.30 monthly, or $27.60 a year.

At the same time the group is highlighting what buildings will benefit from the referendum, they also stress what isn’t part of the bond referendum. Renovations on the historic county courthouse in downtown York are already underway, paid for in part with money originally set aside for improvements to the recycling center.

Plans to build a new county administrative center in York, with an estimated cost of $24.3 million, was originally included in the facilities committee’s bond recommendations, but ultimately was not included in the final list.

Instead voters will decide on:

A new recycling center

York County’s main recycling sorting center is essentially a big, partially-open metal shed that has been “pieced together” over the years as its space needs grew. But even today, piles of cardboard and plastic sit exposed in the open air outside rooms containing the conveyor belt, compactor and main sorting area.

“It really shouldn’t be outside,” Rekitt said. “It can get wet, but it’s not desirable.”

Inside, it is the job of prison inmates to tear open the trash bags dropped off at county recycling centers and separate different kinds of glass, plastics, aluminum and other recyclables, along with the plain, non-reusable garbage mixed in, then toss the items down different shoots to be hauled away.

It’s not the most efficient way to handle recycling, in part because Rekitt says the York County prison just can’t supply public works with enough inmates to get as much work done as the department would like. Prisoners are also a workforce that requires a lot of attention. In the corner of the sorting area is the workers’ restroom: a toilet surrounded by a low divider wall that allows supervisors to keep them within eyesight at all times.

If the bond passes, the public works department would receive $22 million, of which about $8 million would replace the shed with a larger facility – between 20,000 and 25,000 square feet. A new center would include more automated equipment, moving more items with fewer people. A fiber screen could separate cardboard and paper items, while an eddy current sensor could identify different plastics by laser and send them down the right conveyor belt in a fraction of a second.

“We’ll definitely be able to handle more in a day,” Rekitt said.

Moving and sorting items more quickly will increase county revenue by reducing the tonnage that needs to be shipped somewhere else. But that’s not the main reason Rekitt would like to see the facility expand.

“This is a service we provide here,” he said. “It’s a quality of life issue.”

Sheriff’s, solicitor and courtroom space at Moss

The largest single component of the bond issue is renovating the Moss Justice Center on S.C. 5 in York, a sprawling complex that houses courtroom facilities, prosecutors’ and records offices, the sheriff’s headquarters as well as the county detention center.

As York County’s population has increased, so has the number of people entering the criminal justice system, and the number of people required to handle an increasing number of arrests and court cases. Both Sheriff Bruce Bryant and 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett have argued a justice center built in the 1980s needs to expand to meet the needs of the times.

In part, the proposed $38.5 million for Moss would give their offices more space. Investigators and prosecutors have doubled or tripled up on available office space, and some personnel in both offices have been moved off-site, with the Sheriff’s Office of Professional Standards sent to the law enforcement training center, and some attorneys are housed in rented office space in a store front.

But the real concern for many who work at Moss is security. Officials are concerned Moss has too many access points to be a secure courtroom facility. Multiple offices and the main courtrooms are connected by a long, open hallway running the length of the building, and judges, jurors, lawyers and defendants could all park alongside each other in the same parking lot.

In 2001, Michael Sean Godfrey shot and killed his ex-girlfriend and her grandmother in the Moss Justice Center parking lot, just yards from the front lobby of the county courtrooms. Renovations would include a new front entryway that funnels foot traffic toward a single, secured entrance monitored by sheriff’s deputies. Other doors along the corridor would be inaccessible from the outside, and new security cameras will be installed to make sure no one opens the door after they are admitted to the building.

More Family Court space

The Family Court building at York County’s Heckle Boulevard complex has three courtrooms, but only two of them are actually inside the building. The third is inside a double-wide trailer that was added onto the building seven years ago as a “temporary” fix to the building’s space needs.

Officials have raised concerns about the suitability of the “mobile” courtroom and the security concerns raised by its setup.

“It reinforces every stereotype Northerners have of the South,” said Jim Vining, chairman of the Rock Hill school board and a member of Citizens and Business for York County. “This is way beneath what this community is.”

A positive bond vote would send $26 million to the Heckle complex, $20 million of which would go to construct a new Family Court building with additional courtrooms and added storage space for the copious number of civil court files held there by the York County clerk of court’s office, some in off-site storage spaces, plus a more secure holding facility that will eliminate the need to take prisoners down the hall to use the public restrooms.

The expanded Family Court center would be accessible from a new road entrance off of Rock Hill’s West Main Street to the north of the facility.

Better magistrate’s offices

The two smaller components of the bond issue will improve the local magistrate’s offices in Fort Mill and Clover, along the lines of the same security and space improvements at Moss Justice Center and the Family Court complex.

In Fort Mill, $2.1 million will be spent on a new building to replace the antiquated magistrate’s offices constructed in 1960, while the Clover offices will see “major renovations” and “extensive security upgrades” at its South Main Street building, at a cost of $565,000.

Both facilities will also be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Citizens and Business for York County.

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome

What’s in the referendum?

Heckle Boulevard office complex renovations

Total: $26,275,875

▪ New Family Court facility: $20,714,362

▪ Renovation of existing offices: $5,561,513

Renovations to the Moss Justice Center in York, including new courtroom and sheriff’s office space and security measures.

▪ $38,535,036

Public works improvements, including a new recycling center

▪ $22,255,496

Improvements to magistrate’s offices

Total: $2,703,355

▪ Fort Mill magistrate: $2,137,926

▪ Clover magistrate: $565,429