The Honorable Mayor Casey Hancock presents 2023 State of the City, Hartsville, SC

State of the City

February 28, 2023

 Presented by: The Honorable Mayor Casey Hancock

Ladies and gentlemen, friends, and constituents, my fellow Hartsvillians, welcome to Coker University’s Watson Theater.  Tonight, I have the honor to speak to you about the State of the City of Hartsville.  Thank you so much for joining me and sharing your interest in our wonderful City.

I want to start by saying thank you to my Aunt and Uncle, Lee and Bonnie Gardner, for being here tonight and for providing such steadfast support and Guidance.  Thank you to my good friend, advisor, and sometimes manager, Katie Reaves. I literally wouldn’t be here without you, so thank you for being her tonight. The same goes for Hunter Frazer, The tireless creative and task master, always willing to tell me how it really is.  Thank you for being here.

Ya’ll, if I can bring this back up, let me tell you that it was an army of strong women that ran my campaign and helped me win, It really was.  They continue to support me, and I can’t thank them enough. So, once again, to those of you are here and those of you who couldn’t make the 1000-mile trip one-way, thank you.

Thank you to Jason Stephens. His nickname is Lunch Jason and I think he’s the friend I’ve eaten lunch with the most. Thanks for being her tonight. Thank you to Brandy Stellingworth, the dynamic ragin’ cajon of Hartsville, my friend with whom I’ve eaten breakfast at the Rooster the most. Brandy, thank you for loving Hartsville and its history, and thank you for coming tonight. A big thanks goes to Reverend Jim Blue for his support and counsel. You and I may not talk every day, but you’re always ready to help and listen when I stop by. Thank you.

Last, but not least, I want to thank my fantastic girlfriend, Christina. Her nickname is Captain. Cap for short.  Cap is my rock. She is my voice of reason. She’s the one of the smartest people I know. Sometimes I just can’t stand just how reasonable she is. She’s just so hard to argue with – it’s very frustrating. But I love her for it.  She makes me better.  Let me give you an example. When I told her last week how much trouble I was having writing this speech, she said, and I quote, “Just write it like it’s an email. Because it could have been an email.” But then she also said, “But I understand why you’re doing it.” Thank you, honey. Thanks for coming to do Mayor stuff with me on your weekend.

And to all those among you who I didn’t name, regardless of if you have been here for a lifetime or a minute, I am so glad that you call Hartsville home and I’m so happy to have you here tonight. I am so happy to have you, this family, that has come here from all walks of life and all over the world.

Because you’re here, Hartsville is so much better than it has to be.

But why am I here?

Michelle, our communications, marketing, and tourism czar, challenged me to consider that question to help frame this address.  I ran for office two years ago because I saw Hartsville at a critical point.  With Mayor Pennington stepping down after over a decade of outstanding growth and progress, I wanted to make sure that Hartsville stayed on the right track, getting better and being progressive. Plain and Simple. I thought I was the candidate that was best qualified to do that, and enough of you agreed that I stand here today, honored to serve as your Mayor.

I’ve only been in this office for 14 months, but almost every week someone asks me if I’m going to run for re-election.  And I say, “whoa, whoa, slow down now, just slow down.” But then, I also always tell them the same story:  Right after I was elected, I was talking to Mayor Pennington on the phone and telling him how downright awful the campaign was, and how I looked forward to the job but just didn’t know if I could endure a campaign like that again. He gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten: He said, “If you hold the office in the way that best serves Hartsville, if you just work to do the right thing for Hartsville and to make Hartsville better, then you won’t have to worry about anything.”  So that’s why I’m here. I’m here to do the right thing. To make the hard decisions, and to make Hartsville better. That’s why. That’s it…but enough about me, let’s talk about where we are as a City.

I’ll start with our Financial Position:

I want to brag a little bit, but I’ll try not to drown you in numbers. First, let’s talk about Hartsville’s credit rating.  You see, our City, like you and I, has a credit rating.  Just like you and I, that credit rating affects quite a bit, but most importantly, it affects our ability to borrow.  When I say borrow, think money for projects, for doing the work.

Just a few weeks ago, our staff had an affirmation call with S&P Global Ratings in New York City. I took this from the credit rating report that followed the call:

  • “S&P Global Ratings affirmed its ‘A+’ long term rating” on our waterworks, sewer system improvement, and refunding bonds.”
  • “…and its ‘A’ long-term rating on our combined system improvement bonds.”

Our staff tells me (and I see them nodding in agreement), that is very, very good!  Further, per the audit report that was presented in our City Council meeting last month, our revenues are up and our expenditures are down. Our reserves are at 29.35% of annual expenses. That’s about three months of emergency fund on hand.

How’d we get there? Well, it goes back before my time for sure.  In December 2020, Council passed a Reserve Fund Policy. Our staff set out to maintain 17-30% reserve funds on hand, which is the recommended range for small cities across the nation. That goal allowed us 3 years to get to the minimum of 17% in reserve funds.  We, or should I say, our staff, got to 30% in just 2; 30 % in just two years.  That, ladies, and gentlemen, is remarkable.

Another part of how we got there is by being creative with our revenue and judicious with our spending. Over the last 4 years, from 2019 to present, we were awarded approximately $8.2 million in grants. Grants are essential to a city’s success, and, this year, we kicked it into high gear. As of yesterday, we have submitted applications for almost 14 million dollars more in new grants. Many of these grants require little to no match, further removing burden from you, the taxpayers. Those grants are for things like:

  • A new water tower to ensure clean water and good pressure for you and your family
  • Things like the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant to take on more growth across the City
  • Things like new stormwater pipes to tackle our flooding issues
  • Things like a new fire truck and safety equipment for our police officers and firemen, and much more

We are doing the so called “dirty work” to set the City up for decades to come. So, in short, your City is financially sound and we, on Council, are incredibly proud of that.

Looking ahead from here, year over year revenues are growing, allowing us to invest back in the community.  Investing back into the City to stop the flooding we experienced last year from happening again. Investing back into the City to take our aging infrastructure like we are doing on McCleod Road to keep residents from being swallowed by the great Prestwood sinkhole. Investing to continue cleaning up dilapidated buildings, investing to save the City from suffocation by leaves and investing to fix the big things but also taking care of the little things along the way. We are investing back in you, our citizens, who we serve. And if that’s not the whole point, I don’t know what is.

Speaking of you, let’s talk about where your City is headed:

Many of you, like me, were disappointed with our last census numbers. For those not aware, it showed a slight decrease in our population, a few hundred people.  We are not alone though, as many cities and towns saw decreases as the survey was done right in the heart of the pandemic and because of that and other reasons it is, quite frankly, wrong. While that presents us with challenges, it’s not going to slow us down. The census indicates that our populations is declining, and many predictions say that economic activity should be declining. But, let me tell you, the arrows on our graphs are going the other way.  It’s those numbers on those graphs that businesses, big and small, look at when they are looking to expand.

Speaking of, Sherron, where are you? Is anybody from Chick-fil-A in the room? Publix? They haven’t gotten here yet. No? Oh, well…anyway.

Back to what I was saying, why is revenue up for us despite that data? A big reason is that our little 5.99 square mile City of 7,446 residents actually hosts an average daytime population of close to 40,000. That’s by including those that commute in or stop by, and it’s called our Trade Area Population. That’s a 600% gain in population, in shoppers, each day. Many small towns like us see a decline, and that’s part of why we are thriving, when so many are struggling. Our downtown has a 93% occupancy rate, and we’re currently working with people right now to fill in the two or three open retail spaces we have. And we are home to so much more that helps drive that activity:

  • We are home to the Red Foxes, the Cobras, the Eagles.
  • Hartsville is the “only true college town in the Pee Dee” with Coker University right here in the middle of town. In fact, I have a meeting with a student next week to talk about how we can continue to build our relationship.
  • We are also home to those couple of hundred geniuses over at the Governor’s School.
  • And we are home to the historic Butler High School and the Historic District that surrounds it.
  • We are home to titans of industry such as Sonoco, Duke Energy, North Industrial, Stingray Boats, and so many more.
  • We are home to a world, class, award winning, waterpark which brought almost 90k visitors to Hartsville last year, along with being the largest employer of youth in the Pee Dee.

I’m going to quote Councilman Caldwell in saying that “We have a championship community right here.” We are champions in so many ways because of you, not because of me.  So, thank you.

Next, let’s talk about where we’re going: Our Strategic Plan

One week ago, we had our Annual Strategic Planning Session, and three high-level priorities came out of it. We spent the day discussing goals, projects, concerns, and everything in between. Among all the goals and projects discussed, three main themes came through loud and clear as priorities for the City to tackle.  Those three were Public Safety, Economic Development, and creating One United Hartsville.

First, Public Safety

Safety is of utmost concern for all of us here. It’s a priority for our residents, for our businesses, and for anyone looking at Hartsville as a possible new home.  We are fully committed to ensuring that Hartsville is safe and secure.

We are excited by the new opportunities that are in the works. We’ve already announced that the City has invested 500 thousand dollars in a brand-new camera system with artificial intelligence that will help our Police Officers find suspects and stop crime in mere minutes, and without having to be tied up staring at monitors and TVs in an office. Installation of those cameras is set to begin in the coming weeks.

We also will begin the important process of hiring our next police chief after the recent retirement of our former Chief Jerry Thompson. Chief Thompson served in law enforcement for 50 years, seven of them here with us in Hartsville.  Jerry, thank you again for all your work, serving Hartsville, Darlington County, and that State of South Carolina. We look forward to seeing what’s in store for your next chapter. We also look forward to shaping HPD’s next chapter as we work towards hiring a new Chief that will lead the department in serving and protecting our community for years to come.

One more thing, as we know, keeping our community safe takes all of us, so I want to give thanks to another friend, Hilary Rondeau. If you don’t know Hilary, know that she is one those people who not only “is not okay” with a problem, but she’s one of those who’s going to step up and do something about it.  Hilary recently founded Lock it with Love, a program that has brought together HPD, the Sherriff’s office, and others to distribute over 140 gun locks and other supplies to families in just three events. And she’s just getting started. Thank you, Hilary, for your hard work and for taking the time to be here tonight.

Next, let’s take Economic Development

While we continue to foster economic growth development across the City, we specifically affirmed our commitment to continue to push forward on the strategic growth of our City.  We’ll do that by making Hartsville as attractive as possible to invest in and making sure that beginning or renewing a business within the City is as effortless as possible.  We affirmed our commitment to continue intentional development of areas such available land next to the Governor’s School, between 4th and 5th Street.  And beyond that, infill development along South 5th Street and growth along Hwy 151 will grow the City Hartsville in terms of population and economic activity, increasing our tax base and thus our revenues to allow us to support even more development projects across the whole City. And that brings us the final priority:

 One. United. Hartsville.

Hartsville cannot realize its full potential until all of Hartsville looks as good as it’s best.  We will not realize our full potential until all of Hartsville has a shared civic pride and feels engaged, invested, and proud of where they live. Look good, feel good, right?

Well, the South Hartsville area, specifically the 6th Street corridor, is of special focus for the City is this year’s strategic plan. This morning, the City took an important step toward realizing that goal.  I am excited to announce the beginning of the South Hartsville Corridor Revitalization Project.

Just a few hours ago, staff submitted a grant application to the US DOT RAISE program for an additional one million dollars to fund the Phase One Design and engineering of a South Hartsville Corridor Revitalization Master Plan for Sixth Street. In our letter to Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of the US Department of Transportation that is, we detailed our plans for:

  • Sidewalk improvements including multi-use paths for safe biking and walking, but with better separation and better lighting
  • The installation of curbs and gutters along the entire length of Sixth Street
  • The creation of bump-outs with trees along both sides of the street to create safe on-street parking
  • Improved drainage systems along the Sixth Street Corridor that include both gray and green infrastructure
  • Development of a comprehensive landscaping plan for the corridor

Most importantly, the funding will prepare us to host community meetings to engage with our citizens, because we need to know what’s important to you and we need your feedback.  This RAISE grant application is just the beginning, and I can’t wait.

In an attempt to wrap this up:

I have a few more thanks offer.  I’d be remiss not to thank or governmental partners, from our peer cities, our County Government, our State Government leaders and all they way to Washington, DC, the City of Hartsville doesn’t do things in a vacuum.

I want to thank our elected officials. Those of you who are here, if you word stand when recognized:

  • Honorable Senator Gerald Malloy
  • Honorable Representative Robert Williams
  • Honorable Representative Cody Mitchell
  • Honorable City Council of Hartsville (who by the way is only 10% of all Municipal Council to be Honor Roll Councils)
  • Honorable Sherriff Hudson
  • Honorable Darlington County Council
  • Honorable Members of our Darlington School District

Thank you for serving our community and thank you for being here tonight.

See, our partnerships with other governmental agencies are vital to our mutual success. We cooperate at every level and do things together to best serve you – to provide you with outstanding services, the best experiences, and the most efficient government so you get the biggest bang for your buck. We work together to provide you with the best quality of life of any small city not only across the southeast, but across the nation.

Thank you to all of you who volunteer on the City’s Boards, Committees, and Commissions. We on City Council couldn’t do it without you.

A huge thanks goes out to our former Mayor, Mayor Mel Pennington. Mel taught me the most of what I know about serving the City of Hartsville. Thank you.

Thanks to City Manager Daniel Moore. Daniel started not long before I did and I’m proud of his work to make Hartsville better, to turn challenges into opportunities. Thanks to Karen Caulder, Assistant City Manager and Finance Guru Extraordinaire.

There are so many more – we have so many Rockstar people on our staff.  A special thanks goes out to Sherron Skipper, Andrea Crenshaw, and Michelle Byers Brown for doing so much of the heavy lifting to make tonight happen.

Thanks to Chasity, Terry, Amber, Brandon, Brenda, Kennedy, Alicia, Katie, Rilla, Ace, Hailey, Matthew, Joel, Andrea, Phillip, Jon, Sam, and to Orlander Wheeler, our Employee of the Year. If you see Orlando out and about, please give him a high five. The list of Rockstars at the City goes on and on, but I have to stop at some point. To those I didn’t mention, I really do appreciate you.

I want to give a huge thanks to our Hartsville City Council. You who work so hard for some pretty bad headaches and not much pay. Thank you for helping me guide our City onward and upward. After all, that’s why we all serve, and I appreciate you.

Thanks to our small businesses. Our City, especially Downtown, is vibrant. It’s a destination. Against all odds, our small businesses not only survived the pandemic, but we thrived. We adapted, we tried new things, and we made it work. Hartsville would not be who we are without our small businesses. Our peer cities across the State look to us for inspiration. That’s something to be proud of. Did you know that over the last few years Florence actively recruited many of our small businesses to move to Florence for actual cash rewards? That’s wild! And I am not saying that to knock Florence. I don’t blame them! And, it not just Florence either.  I am telling you that to brag.  Hartsville’s got it going on and others can see that. We should be proud.

We would not be this way without our foundational institutions. Hartsville wouldn’t be Hartsville without Sonoco, without Coker University, without the Governor’s School, without Duke Energy, without Carolina Pines; or our many local, dedicated non-profits and foundations like the Byerly Foundation and others.  This small city would have dried up without the culture and energy and support those institutions bring us.

Hartsville also wouldn’t be who we are without the struggles we’ve faces in the past.  But we are facing them and tackling them head on. Our challenges are our opportunities to be better.

We sit here today at the precipice of change, healing, growth, and excellence. And that’s what we will continue to be: excellent. We will not do the minimum. We will not be merely adequate. As a City, we are who we are because of the dedication and creativity of our small businesses, the support of our institutions, the hard work of our top-notch city staff, our governmental partners, and, most important, because of you and your passion for this great City.

You, the people of Hartsville, who over the decades have just absolutely refused to stop giving a damn, make us who we are.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s why Hartsville is better than it has to be; because you are better than you have to be.

I am thankful for you, Hartsville; all you stand for, are, and will be…a small town with a big heart.

I am proud to serve you as your Mayor.

Thank you – and good night.