TIMMONSVILLE, SC (WMBF) - What does it take to save a town, a place where many people call their home from ceasing to exist?
During the next few months, WMBF News will explore that question and take a deeper dive into small towns across the Pee Dee that have been on the verge of losing everything.
First up, the town of Timmonsville.
Nia Watson talked with town leaders and those who live there about the problems Timmonsville has faced over the past several years.
“Timmonsville is a very unique community, Dates back to the era of sharecropping and farming," Timmonsville Councilman Curtis Harrison said.
Located on the edge of Florence County, town leaders say this quaint, rural town was once considered the tobacco capital of the South.
“You had a lot of farmers, tobacco, warehouses and it was thriving back in those years,” Mayor Darrick Jackson said.
But that era is long gone and along with it a source of income.
Darrick Jackson is serving his third term as Timmonsville Mayor. He says the area faces the same issues as any other small town – having limited resources, but unlimited needs.
“Our community dis-proportionally effected by unemployment which is the root of many problems,” Jackson said.
The town’s financial troubles are what led them to disband the police department in 2012.
Jackson says the department cost over a half a million dollars to operate which was nearly impossible with a $2 million general budget at the time.
“I understand a lot of folks didn’t like it. I didn’t like it, but you have to do what you have to do,” Jackson said.
The department was reinstated back in 2014. Today, Jackson says they have a police chief, 6 police officers, and new patrol cars.
“I’m glad we got that back and we’re better off today from that decision,” Jackson said.
But the town's debt left it with a tarnished water system too.
In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency stated Timmonsville failed to properly operate and maintain its drinking water and sewer systems ultimately forcing the City of Florence to step in and take it over.
“They replaced the water lines uh they did work at sewer stations. They rehabbed the sewer stations,” Jackson said.
But Timmonsville's financial troubles boiled over to the school district, known as Florence Four.
The small 3 school district was taken over by the state in May of this year after receiving the highest financial risk rating for the past 3 years.
Now, with just over 600 students, Timmonsville has lost 32% of its student population but was still paying millions in administrative salaries and related costs.
“And all of those individuals were still in place for fewer students and overtime it impacted our financial status,” Tonya Addison, school district administrator said.
But the state takeover is something Addison says ultimately gave students, faculty and staff more opportunities than before.
She says this year teachers were able to participate in professional development with Florence School District One.
“We have more students at the career center than we did in the past,” Addison said. “We are training kids with robotics, programming, drone programs.”
All the changes have cut Florence Four's operations costs in half from 1.2 million to 600,000 dollars.
One area remains a major challenge: jobs.
“We have all kinds of industry planning to come in the area with no support,” Harrison said.
Both Harrison and Jackson say what the town needs are more large manufacturing businesses, like the current Honda manufacturing facility on Honda Way.
“We need some things that stabilize a community and make it attractive for people to come here and live,” Harrison said.
Things, Jackson says, city leaders are working around the clock to provide.
With a downtown green space in the works, empty storefronts coming back to life and a community center coming soon.
People are hopeful that this small town of Timmonsville will grow into the place they know it can be.
“I’m very confident that this town will move forward, is moving forward and they’ll be some great things to come in the future,” Jackson said.