Tighter Codes Putting Fairfield County Staff to the Test

Fairfield County’s new building codes are putting a strain on existing staff, and during the June 25 meeting of County Council, County Administrator Phil Hinely informed Council of his intent to bring on help.

“Recently Council updated the zoning and building codes to reflect the current national codes, and added an initiative to address the existing buildings in deteriorating condition,” Hinely said.

The additional workload created by updating the zoning and building codes has not, by itself, been significant enough to warrant additional staffing, Hinely said, but the more stringent codes regarding existing buildings have stretched the effectiveness of the County’s two code enforcement officers.

“Unfortunately, we have a large inventory of existing housing stock that is in violation, and we don’t have any additional staff to take care of that,” Hinely said. “Without that (additional staff) it will take us years to realize our outcome.”

Hinely said the current director of planning and zoning is planning to retire in the next two years and suggested creating an assistant director position in order to train an individual to replace the director. When the current director retires, the assistant would be promoted to director and the assistant director position would be deleted.

“When we know we have someone who is in a critical management position in the County, we should bring someone in to understudy him,” Hinely said. “He (the current director) has a lot of institutional history and knowledge.”

Hinely said it was his plan to divide the department into two sections – building inspection, and planning and zoning/code enforcement – and hire two additional code enforcement officers.

“The new codes are a lot more broad and touch a lot more people,” Hinely said, “and to give people due process, it takes longer to go through process.”

“If we don’t get additional staff, is it the end of the world?” Hinely asked, rhetorically. “No. But the things you want done are not going to get done.”

Hinely said he also plans to have additional legal assistance lined up in order to combat any potential litigation as the County begins enforcement of the tougher codes.

“Some of the worst property in this county is right here on (Highway) 321,” Council Chairman David Ferguson said. “You can look straight across the street and (see) a boarded-up house right on 321, the main thoroughfare to get to the town of Winnsboro, right across the street from our headquarters. One of the worst environments in the county is right across the street. It’s because we’ve got two code enforcement officers and a million things for them to look at.”

Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley said the new codes went hand in hand with potential economic development.

“When Sumter County had a big industry that wanted to come in there, they went into the neighborhoods before anybody knew they were in town,” Kinley said. “If they did that here, they would tuck and run from Fairfield County if they came down this thoroughfare. We’ve let them get by with too much for too long. There are going to be a lot of growing pains, but we will all benefit.”

Council asked Hinely to provide detailed job descriptions for the proposed new code enforcement officers, and requested that the new officers be certified as Class 3 officers, with the ability to issue citations, within a reasonable amount of time after hire. A final OK on the matter was tabled until Council’s next meeting.

Council also discussed a possible revision to their policy concerning subdivision development. Council said they have encountered problems with developers who, when ground was broken on their subdivisions, signed a document pledging to not ask the County for services, including paved roads or the repair of those roads. But, after development is completed, residents, who may have been unaware of such a provision, have come to Council asking for services.

In fact, at the outset of the meeting, a resident of Reservoir Road asked Council to come in and patch up roads in her subdivision.

“That’s the way it was with Paradise Lane,” Ferguson said, referring to a similar issue encountered by Council in the past. “We will do everything we can to get it rectified. We can’t just go out there and fix it because the property was never deeded to the County. There’s not a quick, fast, in-a-hurry fix to it because you have to work through all the legal stuff.”

Hinely suggested Council may want to consider modifying the existing subdivision ordinance to the effect that if developers do not get the deed recorded, they will not be able to acquire a building permit.