Bond Funds Spent on Blair Park; Drawdy Project Grows

WINNSBORO – County Council once again bumped up against the recreation spending issue Monday night when administration requested an additional $38,275 for the Drawdy Park improvement project that has already cost the County $280,000 out of this year’s capital improvements budget. The additional expense, interim County Administrator Milton Pope explained, was for fencing around the new football field at the park, and was deemed necessary by the S.C. Association of Counties who, Pope said, had identified the nearby retaining wall as a potential liability.

Discussion of the expenditure revealed publicly for the first time that a portion of the County’s 2013 bond issue funds had been spent without Council having established any guidelines for approval of recreation projects.

Pope explained to Council that the $38,275 for the fencing would come from the capital improvements budgets, as had all funds spent on refurbishing Drawdy Park. The only money spent thus far out of the $3.5 million set aside for recreation from this year’s $24.06 million industrial bond was, Pope said, the $15,000 Council voted to spend on Sept. 23 to purchase 1 acre of land at 118 99 Road in Blair.

While news that some of the bond money had been spent without Council setting guidelines for how to do so raised no eyebrows, that Council was about to run the Drawdy Park price tag up to $319,828 – and do so from the capital improvements budget in the general fund – sent tremors through the District 4 representative.

“That was not approved by the Council,” Councilman Kamau Marcharia said, “that was approved by the administrator (former County Administrator Phil Hinely). How did council allow an individual to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into an individual project, and we have a finance committee and everything, and nobody saw nothing? And I can’t get a dime. How did I miss that?”

Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) assured Marcharia that the Drawdy Park project had been discussed and approved during Council’s budget meetings earlier this year.

“I don’t remember reading that,” Marcharia answered. “If I heard $200,000 was going for a project, my ears would have stood up like a Doberman.”

With the Drawdy Park project now knocking on the door of $320,000, Marcharia said, and with $500,000 allocated for each district in the bond issue, District 6 stood to make out with more than $819,000 in recreation funding this year. District 4, meanwhile, is locked in an endless debate, still looking for the erection of a recreation center, and the $500,000 to do so, promised them in 2005. Marcharia tried three times over the summer to carry a vote to release District 4’s portion of the recreation bond money to construct the center, but failed each time. Council was then faced with the question of how recreation money from the bond would be approved – either by individual Council members or by a majority vote of the entire Council.

Ferguson, in a work session last month, put the issue before his colleagues, but five of the seven members told Ferguson they would rather wait until each district could produce plans and cost estimates.

“Four weeks ago I asked Council to set a date for us to vote on how those projects were to be brought forward,” Ferguson said Monday night. “I got some feedback that we wanted to wait and talk about that. But before we start spending bond money for recreation, we’re supposed to have a policy of how we’re going to vote. And we have not done that.”

The Blair park, Ferguson said, was unique, as it replaces a park Council closed last year in the neighborhood. The new park was something Council had committed to at that time, but well before Council passed this year’s bond issue. The decision to use bond money to pay for the new park, Ferguson said, was made by administration, not by Council.

Councilman Dwayne Perry (District 1) suggested money for the Drawdy Park fence should also come from the bond, and said the Drawdy Park project is tantamount to “double dipping” for District 6.

“In other words, they’re getting the money for that district (out of the bond) in addition to the money that’s being spent for the park,” Perry said.

Pope said Council could either elect to take the $38,275 from the bond on the spot, or take it from the capital improvements fund and reimburse the fund at a later date, once Council has established guidelines for recreation spending. Council chose the latter by a vote of 5-1, with Marcharia voting against.

Meanwhile, Ferguson said Council would vote at their next meeting, Oct. 28, to establish those guidelines. Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) said the point was moot, since it was her understanding of state law that a majority vote was required before any council spent public funds.

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