No More ‘Free Money’

Accountability Placed on Discretionary Funds

WINNSBORO – Extracting discretionary funds from County Council members is about to become more difficult and a lot more competitive, if the full Council accepts the recommendation made Monday evening by the Administration and Finance Committee.

While discretionary spending by Council members under former County Administrator Phil Hinely sometimes strayed from its $2,500 limit, included a rather informal paper trail and required the approval only of the Administrator, the new policy drafted by Interim Administrator Milton Pope and his staff outlines specific restrictions on the funds and requires a majority vote by the entire Council.

“What we tried to do from a staff perspective is to make sure the process we have is a transparent process, is an accountable process and is an open process for individuals to be able to submit things,” Pope told the Committee, which comprised Council Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry (serving as Committee Chairman), Council Chairman David Ferguson (substituting for Mikel Trapp) and Councilman David Brown (substituting for Carolyn Robinson).

For starters, the funds will no long fly under the flag of “Discretionary Spending,” but instead will be labeled “Community Enhancement Grants.” The funds are still limited to $2,500 per district and require the completion of a four-page application, accompanied by an IRS Form W-9. Charitable organizations will be required to provide the County with a copy of their 501 (c) or 501 (c) 3 designation form or a copy of their registration form from the S.C. Secretary of State’s Office.

According to the new policy, the County will award grants to fund the following types of projects:

Back to school supplies for K-12 students;

Community Enhancement programs/initiatives for churches, non-profit or other eleemosynary (charitable) groups that serve individuals or families in need;

Community Improvement Grants – programs/initiatives that improve the quality of life for neighborhoods, identification signs, beautification, etc.; and

Youth, Adult and/or Elderly programs/initiatives that support wellness, health fairs and related services to improve the overall quality of health in the community.

Applicants will have to describe in detail for the County how they intend to spend the funds, and a review panel will evaluate and score the applications based on the community and/or district benefit, the number of citizens served, the organization’s ability to deliver services and the county wide impact of the grant award. Special consideration will be given, Pope said, to organizations that are collaborating with other groups to deliver services.

Once the application has made it through staff, it will then come to full Council for a final vote. Grant recipients will be required to provide the County with receipts for how the funds were used and organizations found to have made questionable or unauthorized purchases with the funds, Pope said, may be barred from receiving future grants.

Brown, who along with Robinson has traditionally expended his District 7 money on providing street lights for the community, asked Pope where such an expenditure would fit into the new policy’s criteria. Pope said such an expenditure could either be incorporated into the policy for as long as that Council member holds their individual seat, or Council members could work with community organizations and encourage them to request the funds.

“It’s a competition for the best programs the community wants to get involved with,” Pope said. “There’s nothing that precludes a Council member from working with their community about some kind of need that’s been identified and apply for this.”

The draft of the policy discussed Monday evening capped the individual grants at $500 each, with a maximum of $2,500 per district. Ferguson, however, pointed out that Council may want to write more checks for less money.

“Because of how many churches we’ve got that we deal with, we don’t ever give that much to one church,” Ferguson said. “If you’ve got more churches than that that you could give like $250 or $300 to, you could supply more children in need in different churches. I think that’s the way we need to think about it.”

The Committee voted to amend the policy to read “up to $500,” keeping the maximum at $2,500 per district, and voted to recommend the policy to the full Council.