Mismanagement puts Chapin Technology Park project behind schedul - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Mismanagement puts Chapin Technology Park project behind schedule, over budget

(Source: WIS) (Source: WIS)

A major project in Chapin is behind schedule and over budget.

It's hard to miss the signs of construction as you drive to Chapin down Columbia Avenue. Just near Chapin High School sits a 220-acre property that the county owns and plans to use.

Chapin Business and Technology Park is a business community that was supposed to be completed in 2016. 

However, as of Friday, the project is nowhere near completion. 

The plans put in place and approved by county council aimed to build a technology park five years ago. 

On Monday, Lexington County Council members heard concerns from CEO of Mungo Homes Stewart Mungo, who says the county is not following through with an agreement made in 2012.

Mungo Homes and Lexington County have an agreement that if the county builds the road and sewer in the area, he would build up a community nearby. That part of the project was supposed to be completed in 2012. 

As of Friday, there is no sewer access and the road remains closed.

Lexington County Councilwoman Erin Bergeson confirmed Friday that the project is behind schedule and over budget. The project is now running around nearly $14 million. It's estimated by council members it could reach to $20 million once completed.

Lexington County Councilman Ned Tolar confirmed a $615,000 fountain was purchased for the park. Bergeson called the fountain a "sad example of wasting taxpayer dollars for a Class A park."

After Monday’s council meeting, a couple of council members are spearheading an effort to get back on track. Councilwoman Bergeson agreed that the council needs to keep promises they make.

Councilman Phil Yarborough criticized county administrators.

“Competent project management is one of the basic job requirement of a county administrator," Yarborough said. "In a county such as ours, there’s simply no excuse for our administrator to so badly mismanaging such a straight-forward project. Frankly, if he had worked for me he’d have been let go a long time ago. This kind of mismanagement wouldn’t fly in the business world, and it shouldn’t be acceptable for county government."

All council members said they were embarrassed at Monday’s meeting.

The county issued a statement late Friday from Chairman Todd Cullum on Chapin Business and Technology Park, saying: 

The County is working diligently to develop the Chapin Business and Technology Park at Brighton and create a prosperous lifestyle that will spur responsible growth in the Chapin area.

Developing a technology park from the ground up is a methodical and industrious process, during which the County is being conscientious of the taxpayers’ dollar, while taking advantage of all government funding made available to the County.

The statements that were reported about the County Administrator in the earlier broadcast are inaccurate and malicious. Councilmen Yarborough and Tolar were present for each vote taken on all expenditures for the Chapin Park.

In addition, Councilmen Yarborough and Tolar have never expressed doubt or questioned the timeline surrounding the park's development until this past week. Their collective statements have been prompted by a narrative that does not fit the project outline this Council, nor previous Councils, have voted and approved. 

Council set a budget in late 2012 of approximately $13.9 million to construct the park.  To date we are within that budget. Only recently were we able to bid certain aspects of the park and still were able to stay within four-year-old construction numbers. Nobody in this day and time can get anything constructed in 2017 on 2012 dollars.  

Further, the management of the park during development was controlled by former Chairman of Council Johnny Jeffcoat.  Each decision on expenditures and development questions were reviewed by Chairman Jeffcoat and his direct report on the project, former Economic Development Director Chuck Whipple. 

To be clear, all monetary decisions on the park were properly bid and voted on by council, which votes included Councilmen Yarborough and Tolar. Our County Administrator has only recently been asked to oversee the management role of the park, since the departure of the former Economic Development Director in June 2016.

During his tenure, the County Administrator has done an exemplary job in managing over 1,700 employees and a multitude of projects. Furthermore, he and his staff have submitted solid budgets that continuously advance the County's potential and future. 

The County's staff is working to ensure that all amenities offered by the park are of the highest quality. Due to the County’s diligent work, we have every reason to believe these amenities will be made available to any potential tenant that wishes to locate its business in the park. Therefore, we will continue to actively market and show the park to all potential tenants.

Tolar released the following statement regarding the issue:

“On Friday, the County Council chairman criticized me – apparently for simply answering a reporter’s question about delay at the Chapin business park -- via a news release which was sent on official letterhead by the county’s public information office.

“While I understand his sensitivity over the business park fiasco, I hope that in the future the Chairman will refrain from using county employees and other taxpayer resources in this manner. The public information office exists to convey important information to citizens, not for political one-upmanship.

“For the record, I do believe the business project has been badly mismanaged. All evidence indicates that the county administration made promises that went unfulfilled. Taxpayers have spent millions on a business park that now sits vacant when it should be attracting new economic investment. Even worse, there appears to be a lack of straight answers. Lexington County government is falling short of our citizens’ expectations.

“Whatever the reasons for the delay, we owe it to the taxpayers to get that entrance road open, and to be candid with the public about any problems at the park. No one is well-served when county leaders attempt to pass the buck, or shoot the messenger, or conceal details from the public.”

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