County under fire for LOST funds

FAIRFIELD – If searching for a new Administrator, debating recreation and coping with a State Attorney General’s opinion were not enough, County Council Monday night faced claims by one citizen that they had misappropriated more than $5 million in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) funds since 2006.

Maggie Holmes told Council that she had tried to discuss the funds with Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) and Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry (District 1) in March and was unhappy with the outcome. A subsequent Freedom of Information Act request, Holmes said, filed a short time later, has not yet been answered to her satisfaction.

“I have lost trust and confidence in Council’s ability to manage the financial affairs of the County,” Holmes said Monday. “You knowingly allowed more than $5.2 million of Local Option Sales Tax money to be withheld from the taxpayers of Fairfield County. As a governing body such an act on your part should be illegal.”

According to local attorney Jonathan Goode, retained by Holmes to pursue the matter, voters in Fairfield County approved the LOST in 2005. It went into effect in 2006. There are a number of ways in which LOST funds can be allocated, Goode said, as far as what percentage goes into the county’s general fund and what percentage is used toward property tax relief. In Fairfield in 2005, he said, voters approved 100 percent for property tax relief.

During this year’s budget session, Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson said $2.5 million in LOST funds enabled Council to lower the millage rate this year by nearly 9 mills.

“We were told we were using half of that money this year and half next year,” Robinson said this week.

But the money cannot accumulate from one year to the next, Goode said, according to what Fairfield voters passed in 2005.

“We’ve got a little more digging to do,” Goode said, “but if the County can’t make this right, then we’ll file a class action lawsuit. There’s no money in this for us – only for property tax relief.”

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