WIS Investigates: Taxpayers question $73,000 fence for county courthouse

CAMDEN, SC (WIS) - Kershaw County says when it comes to the parking lot behind the courthouse where the judges park and where inmates are brought in and out, the county had to make some security changes.

The county wanted to be able to control who could get into the parking lot and who could leave, but instead of going with a chain link option, they decided to go with a little more pricey fence.

People in the county argue that extra money could have been spent elsewhere.

"It's definitely going to make it look much nicer," said county resident Bill Blake.

But that's about the only benefit Blake sees from the county's new $73,000 investment enclosing the courthouse parking lot.

"A tank's going through it," said Blake. "A bullet's going through it. It looks nice. A lot of wasted money, I think."

While it's unclear if the new fence will have to stop any tanks, it stopped Morgan Mays and caught her attention.

"I think it's hideous," she said.

Mays has watched for the last several weeks as workers installed the new fence post by post.

The fence will have electric gates to enter and exit and should make the courthouse more safe. At least that's what the county is banking on.

"There has been an understanding that our courthouse, which is about 50 years old, was lacking in a number of areas that are expected for modern and current standards for courthouse security," said Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter.

Carpenter says the county added restricted access to areas of the courthouse, installed security cameras, moved around some offices, and installed the fence. The upgrades were made after South Carolina's Chief Justice ordered a review of the state's courthouses and found security concerns at Kershaw County's.

More that just that review sped up the security upgrades. The county was scheduled to hold the trial of Nicholas Miller, who's accused of raping and murdering a woman he ran off the road. That trial has since been postponed.

Instead of bidding out the fence project, the county just took money from the budget and paid a contractor. It's unclear if there would have been a lower bid for the fence. But Carpenter said it's not just a fence.
"You can't just have wrought iron, you can't have chain link, you can't have aluminum," said Carpenter. "You have to have certain kinds of welded materials, you have to have distances that keep people from being able to squeeze through, or from being able to climb over. You also have to maintain a level of aesthetics. You don't want it to look like it's a prison camp."

But even with that, $73,000 still is a lot of money for some of the taxpayers, paying to gate the courthouse.

"There are a lot more projects Kershaw County needs than a fence to protect cars," said county taxpayer Morgan Mays.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews says in a statement, while the fence isn't the best option, it's the best one the county has for now.

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