Council OK’s Spending Policy

Community Grants Carry Stipulations

WINNSBORO – In spite of some criticism voiced against the move during the first public comment portion of Monday night’s meeting, County Council unanimously approved a new policy governing how discretionary funds are expended, rechristening the funds “Community Enhancement Grants.” With the 7-0 vote, Council gave the OK to a policy that was hashed out in a July 14 Administration and Finance Committee meeting.

“This has come under great scrutiny,” Council Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) said just before the vote, “but when we’re helping children go back to school and that kind of stuff, it means a great deal. A little means a great deal.”

Some of that scrutiny came early on Monday evening when District 2 resident Selwyn Turner, who on several previous occasions has called on Council to eliminate the fund altogether, accused Council of using the money to buy votes.

“A discretionary fund by any other name is still a discretionary fund,” Turner said. “You can call it ‘enhancement funds’ all day long if you wish but it still stinks to high heaven just like a discretionary fund.”

Regardless of what one calls the fund, Turner said, “it is a deceptive fund that makes our Council members look good and generous in the eyes of their constituents so that ultimately they will be reelected by the recipients they collectively choose to receive the $2,500 per district funds that appears to be coming from Council members instead of the taxpayers.

“Let the churches tend to the charity in their community,” she said. “Let the schools or individual clubs tend to needy students and you tend to the progress of Fairfield County.”

But Council deflected that criticism, with Interim Administrator Milton Pope noting that, “From the totality of this Council and consensus of this Council, all of your spending is actually discretionary.”

Councilman Kamau Marcharia (District 4), meanwhile, took the charges personally.

“We have young people when school’s out who are literally hungry, who do not have food, and we help them with food and I’m trying to woo them to get votes or I’m trying to steal something from the public? Don’t imply that with me,” Marcharia said. “I’ve never tried to feed somebody who is hungry, go into the community and rip people off with $2,500 to get a vote. This is not what this is about.”

Although 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 installs a series of hoops for applicants to jump through and puts a competitive spin on the process.

“It’s a competition for the best programs the community wants to get involved with,” Pope said during the July 14 committee meeting.

The funds will still be 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. The funds will be disbursed in increments up to $500 each.

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 countywide 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.