Hiring freeze OK'd; bar hours changed

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AIKEN --- The Aiken County Council tackled a host of issues Tuesday night, agreeing to a hiring freeze, an ordinance change involving county bars and a lease for a hydrogen fueling station set to open this month.

Faced with a pending cut in state funding that could range from $2.5 million to $3.6 million, council members voted to implement the hiring freeze for the remainder of this fiscal year -- almost four more months -- with the caveat that positions deemed essential could go before the council on a case-by-case basis.

"We're trying to take precautionary steps because we can't wait to see what might or might not happen in Columbia," said Councilman Eddie Bunker.

Council members voted on third and final reading to require bars to stop selling beer and wine at 2 a.m. The council made one other change Tuesday night, setting a starting time for such sales at 7 a.m.

Previously, establishments had to stop selling liquor at 2 a.m. but could continue to sell beer and wine. The start time for serving liquor will be 10 a.m., as defined by state law.

Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt, who brought up the 2 a.m. proposal in response to shootings at some bars in Aiken County in the past three months, said Tuesday night that he would allow a 30-day grace period for the change.

In other news, the council agreed to a 10-year lease with the Economic Development Partnership of Aiken and Edgefield counties for land at Sage Mill Industrial Park, where a hydrogen fueling site will be located across the street from Bridgestone Firestone.

A structure has been built, and officials are planning a March 30 ribbon-cutting, said Fred Humes, the director of the economic development partnership.

Bridgestone Firestone is in the process of converting its forklifts from battery to hydrogen power and has done so with about 25 forklifts at last count, Mr. Humes said.

He said the aim is to get other companies in the Augusta area to make a similar switch.

Reach Preston Sparks at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.


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