COG Deal Moves Forward

WINNSBORO – County Council Monday night authorized Interim Administrator Milton Pope to engage the Central Midlands Council of Governments (COG) for assistance in mapping out how the County should spend anticipated revenues from a pair of new nuclear reactors expected to go online at the V.C. Summer Station in Jenkinsville in 2019, although not without first fielding some criticism from the public. Council also took action on a handful of ordinances – two fee-in-lieu-of taxes (FILOT) agreements and two donations of property.

The COG

Councilman David Brown (District 7) made the motion during Council’s May 26 meeting to enlist the aid of the COG in strategic planning for the County’s expected nuclear windfall. That motion sailed through Council without dissent. Monday night, Pope said the parameters had been set up and Council’s approval was required for the process to move forward. A final document will come back to Council for their ultimate approval in a future meeting, Pope said.

The County does not have a planning department, Brown noted when making his motion back on May 26, while the COG, with whom Fairfield County already has a working relationship, has a staff of approximately 40 professional strategic planners. Brown’s motion included incorporating existing Fairfield County plans, including the strategic plan that was completed in 2010, as well as the County’s existing economic data from Fairfield’s partnership in the I-77 Alliance. The proposal will also allow the COG to contract out for additional resources as necessary.

But District 2 resident Beth Jenkins said during the meeting’s first public comment portion that Brown was a little too close to the COG for her liking. Brown sits on the COG Board of Directors (Fairfield is also represented on the COG Board by Councilmen David Ferguson and Dwayne Perry, as well as Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy and State Rep. MaryGail Douglas) and, Jenkins said, the COG pays Brown $30,000 a year to lease a building owned by Brown.

“This looks bad, smells bad and should not be happening,” Jenkins said. “This is truly a conflict of interest, muddies the waters way too much for honest and clarity in the planning.”

Brown, however, said he has never voted on real estate issues and was not involved in the COG’s vote to lease his property. Brown said he actually lowered the rent below market value for the COG, but recused himself of voting or any discussion on the lease.

“I think my accuser needs to read the law as far was what being unethical is,” Brown said. “If you remove yourself from a vote, you’re not doing anything illegal; you’re not doing anything unethical. As long as you don’t vote on an item you’re not breaking the law.”

Jenkins was not around to hear Brown’s rebuttal, having walked out of the meeting shortly after making her remarks.

“Apparently my accuser just wanted to accuse and try to do damage on TV and get up and walk out,” Brown said. “Well, that’s fine. But as far as I’m concerned, I sleep well at night.”

Pope, meanwhile, urged Council to “continue our partnership with the COG to get the best possible planning initiatives that we can.”

Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) voted against the authorization, saying this was the first time she had seen the document. Pope said he had provided Council with the framework at the June 6 intergovernmental meeting.

“Personally I don’t remember ever receiving one,” Robinson said. “This got passed out to us tonight. It’s the first time I’ve truly had an opportunity to look at it. This is the kind of stuff I look at all day long and I haven’t had a chance to look at it and see if there’s an inoperative word in there that would bind us to something that otherwise might not be good for us.”

After the vote, Robinson added that the County had engaged the COG for a recreation study in years past but had rejected their recommendations.

“If we’re going to take the COG to come in here and try to show us a good plan for how were going to spend this money and a strategic plan, what makes me think that this council in its wisdom is going to sit here and think that they know anything,” Robinson said, “because we’ve already said no once.”

Ordinances

Robinson also voted against first reading of an ordinance to donate a plot of land located at 205 Means St. in Ridgeway to the Town of Ridgeway. Once the site of a Sheriff’s substation, the property has been idle for many years. Ridgeway Town Council has had designs on the property for use as a community garden.

“The County didn’t have any use for it, but we’re providing maintenance and upkeep on it, and during discussions with the Council someone made the suggestion why don’t we just donate it to them,” Pope said, “because they’re trying to do a beneficial thing to their downtown area.”

Council unanimously approved second reading on an ordinance to convey an abandoned road, formerly known as State Road 129 near the site of Element Electronics, to Blackwelder Heating and Air, Inc., and second reading on an ordinance to update the existing FILOT agreement with Lang Mekra North America, Inc. to include Mekra Tool and Mold, LLC.

Third and final reading also passed 7-0 on a FILOT agreement with Enor Corp.