Incentives for Secret Project Get First OK

WINNSBORO – An ordinance to offer an incentive package to an unnamed company with designs on moving into one of Fairfield County’s industrial parks along the I-77 corridor cleared first reading at Monday night’s County Council meeting. The ordinance (621) offers Project Compact a fee in lieu of taxes agreement, as well as the transfer of property from Fairfield County to Project Compact. The property, the ordinance reads, is located in the “I-77 Corridor Regional Industrial Park.” The ordinance passed first reading on a 6-0 vote (Mikel Trapp [District 3] was absent).

Council also passed a resolution identifying the project and allowing “investment expenditures incurred by Project Compact to qualify as economic development property.”

Members of the public, however, speaking before Council during the night’s first public comments portion, said they would like to know more about Project Compact before giving away tax dollars. But Milton Pope, interim Administrator, said a “title-only” first reading was common practice when dealing with economic development agreements.

“All of the information has not yet been negotiated nor vetted at this particular point,” Pope said. “On second reading, the full ordinances will be in the document. There will be more information in there that we can respond to at that time. The Council has not even decided to finalize everything on this economic development deal.”

Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) added that this was how economic development projects were handled all over the state, not just in Fairfield County, and a certain amount of secrecy is to be expected.

“There has to be a beginning point where the company does not want their name mentioned,” Ferguson said. “At that point, if you do (mention the company’s name), projects have actually pulled away from locations. We have to sign (an agreement) that we’re not going to divulge any information until those companies actually announce, before the third reading, what they are and who they are.”

Council also amended Monday night’s agenda after the meeting had convened, which the S.C. State Appellate Court more than a year ago ruled is a violation of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. Council added a vote to approve the placement of an ultra-high frequency (UHF) antenna on top of the water tower on Cook Road to enhance the County’s emergency response capabilities. Pope said the matter was added at the last minute because it was time sensitive and dealt with a public safety issue. The water tank is owned by the Town of Winnsboro, whose Town Council discussed the matter in executive session last week but took no vote. Pope said the agreement to utilize the Town’s water tower had been worked out and was ready to be signed.

Pope said the total cost to erect the antenna was $71,739.69, but the County had been awarded grant funds of $42,642.82 for the project, leaving the County to cover $29,906.87.

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