Dutch Fork H.S. is ranked as one of the country’s leading high schools

DfhslogoThe latest ranking from the U.S. News & World Report places a local high school among the top 5 in the state.

Much like its lists of the best colleges and universities and best hospitals, U.S. News and World Report revealed its picks for the leading high schools in the country. Dutch Fork High School was listed in the No. 4 slot for South Carolina, ahead of any other Midlands high school, and is in the top 5 percent nationally.

“This is made possible by our outstanding students and staff and the tremendous support that we get from our community and our district,” said Principal Greg Owings.

Data was collected from more than 31,000 public high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Statistics taken into account by researchers included scores on state-mandated assessments, the academic achievement of minority and economically disadvantaged groups, and student performance on Advanced Placement exams.

At Dutch Fork High, 51 percent of students take AP classes. Nearly 80 percent of students are proficient in math and English.

The school was given a college-readiness score of 41.5, which is determined by the number of seniors taking and passing AP tests; the score is above the state average. Irmo High and Chapin High, the other eligible high schools in Lexington-Richland Five, also were given college-readiness scores above the state average.

“Being ranked among the top districts in our state is great news and a testament to the focus we have on preparing our students to succeed in school and after graduation. We applaud the work of our students, parents and educators and reaffirm our commitment to pursuing educational excellence,” said Lexington-Richland Five Superintendent Stephen Hefner.

To read the article as published on coladaily.com, please click here.

SC Passes a New Military Homeowners Tax Bill

Gov. Nikki Haley gave tax relief to South Carolina’s military families after she signed a new bill that would preserve active duty service members’ property tax rate on unsold homes.

The Military Homeowner Protection Act of 2014 guarantees that active duty soldiers who are required to move to fulfill orders would maintain the 4 percent property tax assessment granted to military service members who own homes and are stationed in South Carolina.

Prior to the act, military service members who moved would potentially have incurred an increase of up to 6 percent as residency status would have changed to designate their property as a second home. Service members retain the low property tax rate with the new legislation as long as they remain on active duty.

Haley said the bill would allow soldiers to pay their mortgages and keep their homes on the market while substantially reducing the risk of foreclosures.

“Our military men and women are one of our state’s biggest assets and it’s only right that we provided them with the kind of common sense tax relief that works to lessen the burden of their service for them and their families,” Haley said. “This is about taking care of the people who take care of us and I thank Representative Murrell Smith for his leadership on this issue.”

The bill passed unanimously in the House (77-0) and Senate (41-0). According to the governor’s office, the South Carolina Board of Economic Advisors estimates that more than 400 soldiers will be eligible for this exemption immediately, for a local property tax reduction of $357,246 across the state.

“This is one piece of our strategy to make South Carolina the most military-friendly state in the region,” said state Rep. Murrell Smith, the bill’s primary sponsor. “Maintaining strong communities means that service members should never have to worry about losing their home to a tax bill. We look forward to working with the Military Base Task Force and local commanders to preserve and grow South Carolina’s military assets.”

To read the article as reported on coladaily.com, please click here.

Columbia Ranks #5 for Med-sized Metro Areas for Homeownership

The housing market in Columbia looks bright for those looking to own a home, say consumer analysts. Columbia
ranked No. 5 in best medium-sized metro areas for homeownership, according to consumer financial website NerdWallet.com.

Looking at data from the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau, analysts give Columbia high marks for having a diverse economy, a strong higher education community that offers talent to local businesses and the revitalization of hospitality and business districts including Main Street and the Congaree Vista.

Columbia beat out the Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville metropolitan area, which is ranked No. 8, and the Greenville-Mauldin-Easley corridor, ranked No. 10, for offering better homeownership opportunities. Median monthly homeowner costs for Columbia residents sit at $1,207, while the average monthly household income is $3,963.

The city also has a 67.6 percent homeownership rate. Add a 1.3 percent increase in population between 2011 and 2012, and real estate agents say it is clear Columbia is a prime housing market.

“Columbia has done very well,” said Prudential Midlands Real Estate Broker-In-Charge Brenda Hanna.

Hanna cited the large population of service members and spouses at Fort Jackson and Shaw Air Force Base for adding potential buyers to the housing market in recent years despite the nation going through a tough recession.

“Even though we were affected just like the rest of the nation, we were very lucky,” Hanna said. “We have such a strong military presence.”

With an unemployment rate just under 7 percent, as well as strong economic factors fro home construction, Columbia also stands to be a prime spot for home builders to build communties, according to local real estate agents.

“There’s a viable market with good demand here,” said George Jameson, real estate broker-in-charge for Coldwell Banker United Realtors. “Land over the many years has been fairly reasonable to develop into subdivisions.”

Hanna said relocation clients are her firm’s strongest demographic because of Columbia’s central location. Military families from Shaw Air Force Base often buy homes in Columbia in order to use the GI Bill at a local university as well as for a spouse to find work or for children to attend local schools.

“That’s why Lexington has grown because there’s industrial and manufacturing out that way,” Hanna said. “Sumter has been a little behind the times.”

Young professionals also have taken advantage of low interest rates on mortgages to own a home, she said.

Jameson agreed, saying individuals in their late 20s up to age 40 are the largest part of his market.

“Those are the folks who are moving up from their first home or trying to buy their first home,” he said.

Analysts at NerdWallet.com focused on homeownership based on a recent study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies that found high rental rates coupled with utilities and other expenses have priced many individuals out of the rental market.

“The gravity of the situation for the large proportion of renters spending so much of their incomes on housing is plain,” said Eric Belsky, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies. “We are losing ground rapidly against a chronic problem that forces households to cut essential spending. With little else to cut in their already tight budgets, America’s lowest-income renters with severe cost burdens spend about $130 less on food each month, and make similar reductions in healthcare, clothing, and savings. And while many choose longer commutes to lower their housing costs, the combined cost of housing and transportation means even less remains for other expenses.”

Hanna said the low interest rates for a mortgage make buying a house more attractive than renting. But it ultimately comes down to what buyers reasonably can afford.

Besides working with a real estate agent, Hanna suggests interested buyers meet with a lender.

“The first thing I always stress is they need to talk to a mortgage lender and understand their finances,” she said.

Jameson said a real estate agent can help buyers look at logistics like size and price to make sure the home is affordable and fits their needs. He also said potential homeowners should make it a priority to maintain some savings.

“You always need a financial reserve,” he said.

To read the article as published on coladaily.com, please click here.

Baseball, Anyone?

The Mayor of Columbia held a public forum on Tuesday to answer questions about a potential minor league baseball team in the capital city.

“The important point here is we want to have a brisk and informative public debate,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Benjamin tells WACH Fox that the baseball stadium will be a year round multi-use sports and entertainment venue.

But can the city afford a stadium? A question on the minds of many citizens attending the meeting.

A feasibility study was presented last week by Brailsford and Dunlavey. Representatives told council the stadium would cost close to 42 million dollars, adding that funds would be generated through a public private partnership.

“This facility can be built without any additional tax burden,” said Benjamin. “There’s no tax increases.”

The mayor says the city is currently in discussion with one minor league team, and hopes to have shovels in the ground this coming spring.

Officials estimate the Bull Street stadium would attract 500 thousand people downtown and create hundreds of jobs annually.

To read the article as published on WACH Fox, please click here.

Granby Mill Village Awarded Grants for Revitalization

The Granby Mill Village neighborhood will get help with its facelift after the city of Columbia received two $10,000 grants to fund preservation efforts.

The grants were awarded by the Richland County Conservation Commission and the National Park Service. The federal NPS grant will be administered through the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

The grants will go toward revitalizing historic mill houses in the neighborhood. Granby Mill Village is listed nationally in the National Register of Historic Places and locally as an Architectural Conservation District. The historic district features the largest collection of architecturally similar buildings in the city. Most of the homes were built in the 1890s.

The city designated the Granby Mill Village Stabilization Program with the intent to repair building components that have failed because of water infiltration. The goal is to restore the structural integrity of the homes and to save them from further deterioration.

The city will partner with homeowners of the designated houses as part of the program to offer funding for the repair projects. City officials said the program will be divided into Level I and Level II projects based on the amount of private investment from the owner.

The city’s planning and development department requires a minimum investment threshold of 20 percent of one of the two grant amounts from individual property owners to participate in the program.

In turn, property owners will get a percentage of the funds back. Level I projects will require a minimum $1,200 investment, of which $1,000 will be reimbursed upon completion and final approval. Level II projects require a minimum $2,400, of which $2,000 will be compensated.

City officials estimate the grant program will have the potential to impact up to 20 individual buildings with a total investment of at least $24,000.

Applications for the Granby Mill Village Stabilization Program are available at the city’s planning division website. Homeowners have until Jan. 31 to submit an application. Stabilization efforts will take place between March 1 and May 30.

To read the article as published on ColaDaily.com, please click here.

Law Enforcement Complex Coming to Decker Blvd

Soon there will be more traffic on Decker Boulevard in Columbia after County council approved the renovations of the old Kroger shopping center in the area.

“The fact that something significant is happening with that big empty space is just huge,” said Councilman Jim Manning.

Two year ago Richland County leaders bought the old Kroger shopping center on Decker Boulevard.

Council recently allotted the final funds to turn the building into a law enforcement complex housing the magistrate court which is currently on Huger street and moving the Richland County Sheriff Department Region Two Headquarters to the location.

“About 80% of that mall has been gutted on the inside so we are now moving forward on the construction phase.”

Council approved 31 million dollars from bond money to pay for the renovations.

Councilman Manning says not only will it give the area a police presence but it will bring more traffic to the international corridor.

“It’s going to let people who have been hearing about it to actually be there, see it, know where it is and have them come back.”

“It’s just a great opportunity to continue to progress on the mission that the sheriff has put us in as well as programs that he has put in place to better serve the community,” said Captain Chris Cowan.

Cowan says it will not only be the region two headquarters but it will house other department offices.

“We will be placing logistics and supply, some other uniform type of services will be working out of that facility as well, some juvenile services because the sheriff is really big on youth diversion programs so there are different things that we will be doing to partner with the community on to work more closely with the community.”

Councilman Manning says that the project should be complete in the fall of 2015.

To see the article as reported on WLTX.com, please click here.

SC is Rated as 2nd in the Nation for Worst Drivers

South Carolina has the second-worst drivers in the nation, according to a new report by CarInsuranceComparison.com. But even before that report, Sen. Shane Massey prefiled a bill in the state Senate to make our roads safer.

The rankings say that Louisiana has the worst drivers. The scores are based on things like a state’s fatality rate, number of DUIs, and the number of tickets for speeding, careless driving, running traffic lights and not wearing seat belts.

Sen. Massey’s bill (http://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess120_2013-2014/bills/849.htm)would require anyone under the age of 21 to pass an eight-hour driver training course before getting a driver’s license. It could be a driver’s ed course taught at school or a private driver training course, as long as it’s taught by a certified instructor. North Carolina already requires drivers under 18 o pass a training course before getting a license.

Bryan McDougald, a former state trooper who’s now with the National Safety Council, says, “A driving school will help you break the bad habits and help you become a safer driver, by checking blind spots, by stopping properly at stop signs and traffic signals, and teach you how to parallel park.”

Driving instructor Mitch Oates says the report that South Carolina has the second-worst drivers doesn’t surprise him a bit, but that requiring driver training would help. “It would be a definite advantage,” he says. “A lot of drivers do not understand the laws. They don’t know the laws, so a lot of the basic mistakes you see could be eradicated if people knew the laws.”

The biggest argument against the bill will be the cost to parents. Driver training courses cost several hundred dollars. Sen. Massey, R-Edgefield, says, “Having to pay for higher insurance rates because the inexperienced driver does something stupid on the roadway is a lot more expensive. Having to deal with significant injuries or maybe even death because of a really careless driving issue is certainly more expensive.”

Insurance companies do give discounts to drivers who’ve completed a driver training course.

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety questions the numbers used in the report that rank the state second-worst. For example, the state’s fatality rate is down, with 108 fewer fatalities this year than during the same time last year. And the state’s seat belt usage rate is 91.7 percent, much higher than the national average of 85 percent.

The read this article as reported by WLTX.com, please click here.

Home Sales Are On The Rise

Sales of homes in South Carolina rose 5.2% in October to 5,040 units, compared with 4,792 units in October of last year, according to the latest data from South Carolina Realtors.

The hottest markets were on the coast: Beaufort saw homes sales jump 13.6% to 117 units, while the median sales price there dropped 6.3% to $176,000. Hilton Head sales rose 11.7% to 316 homes, at a median sales price of $249,833.

But on sales, volume and price, the Charleston region was by far the hottest. Sales rose 11.3%, while the number of homes sold totaled 1,017. Only the Coastal Carolinas area (Horry and Georgetown counties) saw more homes sold in October, up 2% to 815 units.

In the other major markets, greater Greenville saw the number of homes sold rise 9.7% to 749 units, with a median sales price of $153,000.

Greater Columbia’s October sales rose 6.3% to 730 units, with a median sales price of $144,000.

On a year-to-date basis, Charleston-area home sales are up 22.7% compared with the same period last year; greater Columbia sales have risen 23.9%; and greater Greenville unit sales have climbed 25.2%.

New listings of homes for sale in South Carolina increased 6.7% in October to 8,597 units, compared with October a year ago.

Pending sales were up 1% to 4,789, while inventory of unsold homes shrank 4.5% to 46,528 units.

The median sales price increased 3.3% to $154,900. Days on market was down 13.3% to 113 days. Absorption rates improved, as months supply of inventory was down 17.6% to 8.8 months.

The realtors association’s analysis suggested that the government shutdown had a modest impact on borrowing, mostly centered on U.S. Department of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs borrowers.

“Consumer confidence is central to ongoing recovery, and confidence was hindered by the shutdown. Consumer spending accounts for roughly 70% of U.S. economic activity and impacts the likelihood for big-ticket purchases like homes and cars. Future shutdowns are unwelcome,” the association said in releasing its October report.

“This year has been spectacular for residential real estate,” the association said. “Robust gains in sales and prices were felt in many markets. More homes sold in less time for closer to asking price. While consumers have felt empowered by low prices and interest rates, sellers are starting to regain their footing. Seller confidence is crucial to refilled inventory bins — which are still relatively sparse.”

To read the article as published on columbiabusinessreport.com, please click here.

Columbia Common, the Bull St Project, Could Start in the Near Future

The historic Bull Street project could get going as early as next year.

Greenville developer Bob Hughes said he met with someone who wants to open on the campus next calendar year.

Hughes didn’t specify the kind of business that would possibly open.

But he did say he hopes to have three developments under construction by the end of the spring.

And Mayor Steve Benjamin is looking forward to what this development could mean for Columbia.

“For this project to possibly gain legs as soon as maybe this spring, I know that the interest level has been significant. It’s been very active and brisk. We’ve talked to the developers regularly. And we’re excited about what it potentially means for Columbia.” says Mayor Benjamin.

The Bull Street project is currently being marketed as Columbia Common.

Hughes says it will call for retail and office space, restaurants, and housing.

To read the article as reported on wach.com, please click here.

S.C. Foreclosures Down 18%, But State Still in Top 10

One in every 729 homes in South Carolina was in some stage of foreclosure in October, down 18.36% from a year ago, according to RealtyTrac.

Foreclosure filings — default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions — were reported on 133,919 U.S. properties in October, a 28% decrease from a year ago, the report said.

The report also showed one in every 978 U.S. housing units with a foreclosure filing during the month.

“The backlog of delayed judicial foreclosures continues to make its way through the pipeline, with many of these properties now being scheduled for the public auction after starting the foreclosure process last year or earlier this year,” RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist said in a news release.

In addition to South Carolina, other states with foreclosure rates among the nation’s 10 highest in October were Ohio, with one in every 525 housing units with a foreclosure filing; Illinois, one in every 552 housing units; Utah, one in every 695; Delaware, one in every 748; Connecticut, one in every 752 housing units; and Georgia, one in every 897.

“Lenders are likely moving these properties more rapidly to the public auction given that there is strong demand from institutional buy-to-rent investors at the auction and that rising home prices mean more of the loan losses can be recouped, either by selling to an investor at the auction or by repossessing the property and reselling as bank owned,” Blomquist said in a news release.

To read the article as published on columbiabusinessreport.com, please click here.


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