Committee Debate Resurfaces

Fire Purchases, Building Projects Comprise Battle Lines

WINNSBORO – A laundry list of purchases for local fire stations approved by County Council during their Feb. 10 meeting again brought to the forefront the desire by some Council members to return to a committee form of government. Council formally did away with the extensive use of committees last year, opting instead to hash over detailed County business during work sessions.

The fire station purchases also raised questions from District 4 Councilman Kamau Marcharia, who said he felt as though the needs for the fire station in Western Fairfield were being neglected.

“We’re purchasing new land, working on all the fire stations and purchasing trucks. Seems like our district’s been put on the back burner,” Marcharia said. “We’ve been negotiating for about 10 years to get land from SCE&G. Where are we with that? We’ve got holes in our driveway, the building is dilapidated, you can’t really hold community meetings in it. Seems like we dropped the ball on Western Fairfield.”

Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) told Marcharia that the negotiations between the County and SCE&G were ongoing and that SCE&G needed federal approval before moving forward with placing a new fire station on land that they own.

During the meeting, Council OK’d up to $40,000 to replace tires for the entire fleet of fire trucks, $20,000 for expansion of the fire training room and up to $300,000 for a new pumper truck for the Mitford fire station. Mitford will also get a new brush truck, a 1-ton Ford F-350, for $36,343. When Marcharia questioned whether or not the County was following protocol by purchasing two trucks for a single station, Fire Marshal Tony Hill explained that the replacement of the brush truck was a special case since the old truck blew its engine and has been out of service for more than a year. Council also approved $20,000 for the purchase of fire suppression foam for all fire departments. Council green-lighted the process to purchase 1.6 acres in Ridgeway for a new fire station there. Interim County Administrator Milton Pope said the purchase would now go through its mandatory three readings and a public hearing before the deal is done. The construction of a burn room and search and rescue training facility, which was given a $35,000 budget in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the funds from which have been rolled over into the current fiscal year, also got Council’s OK.

“Those (fire station purchases) came to us through the Finance Committee,” Councilman David Brown (District 7) said during the Feb. 10 meeting. “I’ve been saying this now for . . . 10 years . . . that we need to go back to our use of committees. Right now we’ve got two (Finance and Economic Development). I truly believe we need to go back to seven.”

While Ferguson said that the former use of committees failed to keep the full Council up to speed on County business, Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) said that even the work session format has been inadequate at keeping the entire Council up to date about a number of significant projects in the County, including the Fairfield Commerce Center.

“I attended the announcement Wednesday (Feb. 5) on our new company (BOMAG Americas),” Robinson said. “We were in a new building down there (the Fairfield Commerce Center) that until two weeks prior to that I had no idea was there.”

Robinson then requested minutes from the work sessions where the building and the sign at the Commerce Center were discussed, as well as the Drawdy Park project, the new spec building at the Walter Brown II Industrial Park, the new Voter Registration building, the HON building and the Probation and Parole building.

“Who knew about any of these projects?” Robinson asked. “How is it that I missed every work session when each of these items were discussed? Could it be that there were no work sessions on any of these items?”

Ferguson, on the other hand, said the items were part of the budget process, which was reviewed and voted on by the entire Council.

“Yes, we voted at budget time to fund so much building,” Brown countered, “but when we did that we expected Purchasing and Finance and Building and Zoning all to be involved and all to be carrying out our policy to be sure that all that is being done right. And if all that would have been done right, if Planning and Zoning would have been inspecting walls or buildings that were being built, if Council knew that RFPs (Requests for Purchases) and contracts and solicitations for bidding for architectural services and engineering services were out there, we would have known a little bit more about it. We have not known any of that. Just because you approve a budget in June does not mean you’re supposed to know the everyday workings of the expenditure of those funds over a 365-day period if nobody’s communicating with you. Just because you approve a budget doesn’t mean one thing. All that budget says is the money is there to be spent. How it is to be spent is up to us.”

Ferguson said that committees were less effective than work sessions in keeping Council apprised of County business. Nevertheless, he said, if the majority of Council wanted to return to committees he would accommodate that.

“At any point in time, (if) any Council member wants to bring up that we go back to seven committees they can request that of me,” Ferguson said. “I’ll have Mr. Pope and Mrs. (Clerk to Council Shryll) Brown put it on the agenda and we’ll vote for it. If the majority of the Council wants to have seven committees, we’ll have seven committees. That’s as simple as that. But if they don’t have, what they need to do is work within the confines of what we have structured and try to do what we need to do, but not at the cost of the other Council members.”

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