Kumbaya

Fairfield County is about to be rich. Filthy, stinking, greasy rich. Regardless of the arguments for or against nuclear energy, in five years or so, when the first of two new reactors is expected to come on line in Jenkinsville, Fairfield will be the John D. Rockefeller of S.C. counties. But it is going to take more than just a great pile of money for Fairfield to make that transition from getting by to getting ahead. It is going to take an effort by this county’s leadership to put aside personal differences and petty quarrels and forge a common bond for the common good.

Monday night was a good start.

While there was no communal singing, no one held hands, County Council and the legislative delegation were able to sit together at the table without the need of armed security or a chicken-wire barrier between them. There was no eye-rolling, no heated exchanges, and apart from our state senator’s expressed concerns over Council’s selection of the Central Midlands Council of Governments as their strategic planners, both sides played nice. For a change.

It was a far cry from last June’s intergovernmental meeting when valuable oxygen was expended bickering over who had ignored who’s invitation for a meeting with whom. None of which is of any importance, because sooner than later two things are absolutely going to happen. One, Fairfield County is going to be going to sleep at night atop great piles of hundred-dollar bills, using Ben Franklins to light its cigars and asking the clerk down at one of Jackie Mincey’s package stores if she has change for a thousand. And two, some legislative delegation from some other county is going to exhaust every effort to carve out a slice of that reactor pie so that their impoverished community can also throw money around like an intoxicated sultan.

The latter, in fact, is happening already. Ironically, counties without two new nuclear reactors coming on line appear, for the moment at least, to be better prepared, better organized for siphoning off some of that money than does the county with the nuclear power plant for planning on how to use that money itself.

That there should be some formula for revenue sharing across all counties from all industries, at least and primarily for improvements in public education, is an argument that has been made here in this space in the past. Until such legislation can be crafted, passed and ratified, piratical attempts to pluck the choicest fruit from the tallest tree have to be defended.

That defense begins with Fairfield County’s delegation, and the chief weapon in their arsenal is a cohesive plan for how that reactor money will be obligated. Although nothing was finalized Monday night, some interesting outlines emerged from the delegation, not the least of which was a scholarship fund for local high school students, an expanded recreation plan, property tax relief and a new vision for Fairfield Memorial Hospital.

With the reactor money coming in not as ad valorem property tax but as fee-in-lieu-of funds, the County controls the purse strings. The discussion about what to do with that money and how to prepare for it could very well begin and end right there. But according to the Council Chairman, Monday’s pow-wow was the first of what is to be a series of discussions, to include the Fairfield County School District and each of the county’s municipalities. We trust that he will be true to his word and that the County will forge a plan that is as inclusive as it is comprehensive. With no less than $80 million estimated to come pouring into the County’s bank account each year there is very little, apart from, perhaps, a space program, Fairfield will not be able to accomplish in its future.

Money may not, in truth, buy happiness, but money can alleviate a great many things that act as impediments to happiness. No amount of money, however, can force adults to behave like adults. Monday night they did so, and we sincerely hope it was not for the last time.