Richland County Council approves 1st reading of amendment to property lien ordinance

Richland County Council approved the first reading to amend an ordinance to eliminate the county’s ability to place a lien on properties that have unpaid sewer bills.

The county would use the state’s debt set-off and GEAR programs to collect property debt. County attorneys have said property liens for utilities have a low priority over other liens like mortgages, which makes them difficult to collect.

Councilman Bill Malinowski, who opposed the amendment, said he thought property liens should remain as an option on the table for the county to collect money owed.

“It seems to me we would want to keep as many options open as possible for collecting this money,” he said.

Assistant County Administrator Sparty Hammett said a homeowner could incur fees and penalties in addition to having the utility cut off approximately two months after defaulting.

Some residents questioned council’s method of voting, as council members recorded a voice vote.

“It’s often very difficult, even sitting in the room, to discern who’s voting yes and who’s voting no,” said Wendy Brawley, who attended the meeting to speak against a proposed multi-million sewer project in the Lower Richland community. “I think every citizen in Richland County should have the right to know how you vote on the issues.”

The deputy county clerk recorded the vote for the property lien agenda item as “pass,” but could not elicit how each individual councilmember voted, per request from Cola Daily.

The amendment will be brought up for a second reading and public hearing at the next council meeting April 28.