Originally created 07/06/99

Aiken county, city beginning to work together



AIKEN -- Relations historically have been testy between the governments of Aiken County and Aiken, but they are dipping their toes into new waters.

They are talking more. They are looking for ways to work together on projects that benefit residents, no matter where they live. And they are discovering that it is not that hard to shed the us-vs.-them mentality that sometimes has stood between them.

"I can't say we're diving into this," City Manager Roger LeDuc said of his talks with County Administrator Bill Shepherd. "We do recognize that there are areas where we can accomplish so much more by combining resources. And the truth is, citizens don't care if a problem is in the city or county. They just want to see it resolved.

"In the past our contacts were limited," he said. "But from my perspective, the citizens of Aiken also live in Aiken County. I view this as a welcome opportunity to get a lot done more efficiently."

The first concrete cooperative effort has been an assault on litter. For the past few weeks, the county has provided four inmates a day to pick up litter in Aiken. But they don't stop at the city limits, Mr. LeDuc said.

Others efforts that are being explored include:

-- Industrial development. The city owns industrial parks that are in the county. The two managers are considering how sites can be cleared with heavy equipment the county owns in exchange for some role in development of those sites. Resulting jobs likely would benefit residents of both the city and the county.

Cooperative efforts to develop infrastructure at Verenes and Aviation industrial parks would help draw industries to the sites.

-- Aiken Municipal Airport is in Aiken County, not the city. The managers are looking for ways it can be used for mutual benefit.

-- Public safety training. The city owns a building used to train firefighters. It can be shared. In the future, the county might provide a similar site to expand training.

The city owns an indoor shooting range. The county is building one outdoors. Those are likely to be shared for cross training.

-- Recreation. The city has Citizens Park and facilities at H. Odell Weeks Activities Center. The county is developing Langley Pond. The two managers are looking at reciprocal uses that will give area residents more recreation opportunities without unnecessary duplication.

-- Gateways. The city has an interest in the appearance of its gateways, which the county has never viewed from quite the same perspective. Now the two are considering how the city's expertise in horticulture and beautification can be used outside its limits with the county's cooperation and, perhaps, financial help. The image of both would benefit, the managers say.

Some divisions between the city and county go back to the turn of the century, when the city developed with the boost of money and power that its wealthy Winter Colony brought. Others are newer and include hard feelings about special tax districts, bus service and the city's push to adopt a countywide sales tax that county officials opposed.

The talks between Mr. LeDuc and Mr. Shepherd began as "an effort to get to know each other," the city manager admitted. "Bill and I began trying to build a relationship so that as problems arose, we would know each other well enough to get them resolved. As we talked, we came to the realization that there were many areas where citizens would benefit if the city and county simply worked together."

"In some instances, the city has the expertise, and we have the equipment," Mr. Shepherd said. "In other cases, one of us has the know-how but not the resources, and the other can help."

The two men gradually came to see that there was a long list of possible ventures that would serve residents and save tax dollars.

It's too early for them to say they are excited about the prospects. But both agree that what affects the city affects the county and that the reverse is just as true.

"The bottom line is finding ways to better meet the expectations of our citizens and better spend the citizens' dollars," Mr. LeDuc said. "I think this approach holds a lot of promise."

Margaret N. O'Shea covers the city of Aiken for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.