Orangeburg City Council is considering changes to its event licensing process to better regulate special events at venues and homes.

The proposed policy would cut down on an increasing number of unlicensed events which pose a safety risk and cost the city, Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Chief Charles Austin said.

“In the past year, this situation has been sort of nightmarish,” Austin said.

The policy would streamline the approval process for events seeking a city license by having promoters fill out one set of forms with the city finance department, according to Melissa Harrill of MRB Group Engineering, Architecture and Surveying. Harrill worked on the proposal and addressed council on its merits.

The policy would apply to private events for which tickets are sold and drinks and entertainment are offered, she said.

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The promoter of the event would apply for an event permit and pay for a city business license if approved, which would cover all vendors associated with the event, she said.

The promoter who signed for the license would be responsible for the compliance with all relevant regulations and city ordinances, she said.

“You create a chain of command in the sense that now the promoter has one person to be there,” she said.

The policy will benefit event vendors and promoters as well as the city, she said.

Harrill called the proposed policy “a trial run” and said there is a “99% chance” it will need to be amended with time.

There has been an influx of vendors and promoters from other cities and states coming to Orangeburg to host for-profit events, Austin said.

City authorities often learn of events the day of, giving them little time to get resources together, he said.

It is difficult to find the sponsor or promoter if there is a disturbance because no one at the venue will claim responsibility if ODPS responds, he said. The events are often advertised online and sponsors have left with their profits before they can be reached.

Austin called the unlicensed events a strain on ODPS resources and encouraged council to approve the proposal.

The proposal would require a 30-day application period for event promoters, Austin said. This would give ODPS more time to prepare for crowd and traffic control, perform inspections, identify the event promoters, meet with vendors and sponsors and explain city ordinances to them, he said.

This would also give ODPS time to alert neighboring property owners and residents of the upcoming event, Austin said.

Some of the events sell or give away alcohol without an alcohol license, he said.

It has not been uncommon in the past year for ODPS to have to respond to such a party every weekend, he said.

“Given the experience we’ve had over the past year or so, I think this is very timely,” he said.

ODPS officers have to discern if unlicensed events are private house parties or family events – hosts will call their event a house party with hundreds of guests in attendance, he said. It is not uncommon for 400 to 500 people to attend unlicensed events at venues or at residential homes, with people spilling into streets and neighboring property.

These events can cause issues with noise pollution, traffic control, drug use, fire code and capacity violations, and physical and gun violence, he said.

At one unlicensed event, ODPS stopped a commercial air fryer from being used in a building not permitted for cooking, which could have caused a fire, he said.

Austin said the owners of venues where these unlicensed events are hosted don’t have a responsibility for any disturbances there and they have been very cooperative with ODPS.

Promoters are drawn to Orangeburg because of its lack of regulations, he said.

The proposed amendment borrows from a policy recently passed in Cayce, Harrill said.

The city is also losing out on money, because all the vendors at these events are unlicensed as well, Austin said.

The business license will be provided by the city’s finance office, Austin said. The event organizer will then go to ODPS for an alcohol license, which would allow ODPS to better enforce regulations on alcohol sales.

Mayor Michael Butler called the proposal “a one-stop shop” for event organizers to get required permits.

Councilmember Annette Dees Grevious asked how the ordinance would apply to house parties and if the number of guests would come into play.

Regulations on numbers of guests could be added in the future, Harrill said.

ODPS already has systems to shut down house parties, she said. The events targeted by the proposal make money from ticket sales.

Grevious noted tickets could be sold to house parties. ODPS often investigates unlicensed parties held at houses and finds tickets were sold, Austin said.

The sale of a ticket is the “trigger event” for the proposed policy to come into play, city attorney John Marshall Mosser said.

Council also gave first reading approval to modifications to city business license procedures, adjusting license fees for several businesses in the city.

Compared to Orangeburg’s “peer cities,” the proposed rates are less than those charged in Florence and similar to those in Aiken and Sumter, Harrill said.

“So you’re in your peer ballpark,” she said. “And you have not raised your rates in a number of years, as well.”

In other matters:

• Orangeburg resident Rick Leonard, son Zack Leonard and friend Curt Campbell asked council to use city resources to clear fallen trees and overgrowth from the portion of the Edisto River within the city limits.

They said this would bring more recreation to the river and improve the aesthetics of the area around Edisto Memorial Gardens.

Rick Leonard said his family has not been able to navigate their personal boat in the river in three years.

“I think we’ve got essentially a jewel in this community and we’re not taking care of it,” he said.

Zack Leonard said he, his father and other city residents have done all they can to maintain the river and will continue to do so after a major cleanup.

“The residents, the father and son teams, have done as much as they can, but now it’s going to take the city power to do the job that needs to be done,” he said.

City Administrator Sidney Evering said the city is willing to look into a cleanup project. Butler also called the river a “jewel” and said City Council has long-running plans for the river in the works.

Councilmember Richard Stroman suggested state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, might be able to assist. Councilmember Kalu Kalu suggested a river renewal could tie into other efforts to revitalize the city’s downtown.

• Council gave second reading to a proposal to sell the old motel at 465 Orange Street to Orangeburg County for a new county courthouse. The county offered $100,000 for the approximately 1.137 acres of land, Evering said.

The city previously bought the property for that same price in 2021, he said. The vote for approval was unanimous.

The county has torn the building down to make way for a future new courthouse.

• Council appointed Georgene Hightower to an empty seat on the Election Commission for an unexpired term ending in 2025. Hightower was nominated for the seat by Councilmember Sandra Knotts.

Henry Ideozu was also nominated by Kalu. Kalu was the sole vote for Ideozu. Grevious abstained.

• Austin updated council on the progress in creating a Citizens Advisory Panel.

Applications for the panel are online, Austin said. Applicants will undergo a background check before being sent to council for final approval.

Austin said the first class of appointees will hopefully undergo training the second week of January.

• Council gave second reading approval to an ordinance fixing an error in the Department of Public Utilities’ rates that charged customers only 10 cents for natural gas service. The error affected 13 customers, DPU General Manager Warren Harley said.

• Council gave first reading approval to a resolution giving DPU permission to pay for capital improvements made before a bond is issued to cover the improvements that will be approved by city council in the future.

The $21 million bond will cover DPU’s projects in the electrical division once the bond goes into effect, Harley said. This will cover materials for the improvements ordered before the bond goes into effect. DPU is currently putting together a bond proposal, he said.

Another $12 million bond will be brought before council to cover DPU’s water system improvements, Harley said.

• Council engaged in a nearly two-hour executive session, with discussions of legal advice on a proposed property transfer having to do with affordable housing.

• Council gave unanimous first reading approval to a resolution approving a power purchase agreement between the city and Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC.

Harley said the agreement would provide electricity to DPU for 15 years.

• Council gave unanimous first reading approval to a resolution requiring non-profits requesting city funds to apply through a grant program which would have certain parameters, including making the city entitled to review annual audits.

Nonprofits would have to report to council for spending of city money, Evering said.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5553. Follow on Twitter: @bozardcaleb.

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