County Budget Gets Final Nod

WINNSBORO – Council gave the final OK to the County’s 2014-2015 budget Monday night with only minor adjustments, none of which affected the bottom line from preliminary figures hashed out in Council’s work sessions. With a general fund of $25,665,917 and a special revenue fund of $7,629,997, the total 2014-2015 County budget weighs in at $33,295,894, down 1.06 percent from $33,598,604 last year, and includes no tax increases.

The budget also includes $2,500 per district in discretionary funds, an item that attracted several comments from the public prior to Council’s final vote. During a work session on May 5, Interim Administrator Milton Pope said his staff was crafting a new policy governing the expenditure of those funds, but as of Monday night that policy was still in the works.

“I’m not opposed to helping school kids, or anything like that, which is the way some of this has been spun, but there are ways to do those sorts of things without making it look like the money comes from an individual Council member,” District 7 resident Billy Smith said during the first public comments portion of the meeting. “There’s also ways to do those things without going through religious organizations.”

Pat Williams of District 2 said the expenditure of discretionary funds should come before the full Council for a vote before the funds are dispersed, while Selwyn Turner, also of District 2, said the fund should be eliminated entirely.

“If you would stop this $2,500 per district, you could save $17,500 in fiscal year 2014 and you would remove suspicions that are cast upon your group with red flags all over the place,” Turner said.

Council members have exceeded their allotted $2,500 in the past, Turner said, while some money has been passed through churches and “questionable organizations for questionable use.” According to the S.C. State Ethics Commission, Councilman Mikel Trapp (District 3) doled out $2,500 on July 1, 2011 and an additional $1,234 six days later to CIC, Inc., a nonprofit for which his sister-in-law works. When that report became public last February, Pope said Council members had $3,500 in their discretionary funds in 2011; however, Trapp’s contributions exceeded that by $234.

“What is going on here?” Turner asked rhetorically. “Isn’t it time we said goodbye to such deceitful and suspicious practices as slush fund, doubletalk, discrimination? Eliminate the discretionary fund.”

Prior to Monday’s final vote on the budget, Pope said no discretionary funds will be dispersed until Council has approved a new policy.

“There will be no distribution of funds until we actually approve the new policy for this, which actually has to go to committee, through our committee process,” Pope said. “That’s what everyone agreed to, so that’s what that process is.

“Fairfield County is not the only local government in the state of South Carolina that has funding or special funding that’s not earmarked for special normal general fund operations,” Pope added, “but I do believe we need additional criteria on the policy to make the policy clearer so that we can answer some of the questions that have been asked about the policy itself.”

Councilman Kamau Marcharia (District 4) said he had some concerns about the new policy, indicating that only individual Council members truly understood the needs of the respective districts. Marcharia’s district includes McCrorey-Liston Elementary School, he said, which has a large number of students on the free or reduced lunch program.

“When school is out during the summer, those kids are hungry, they don’t have food,” Marcharia said. “Their mothers and fathers work two minimum wage jobs and they don’t have enough to provide for the kids. There’s information that comes to you in your community that normally you won’t hear about. Who else on Council is going to go with me to all these different sites and set up the meetings and talk to people over a period of time? I don’t see it’s such a simplistic thing that if I can’t make a decision about what I know to be factually wrong in my community to help someone, if I can’t make that decision, how do you gather that information to make that decision?”

At press time, no date had been established for a vote on the new discretionary fund policy.

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