Reactor Money Talks Begin

State Sen. Creighton Coleman lays out rough ideas for the future allocation of V.C. Summer revenues. (Photo/Barbara Ball)

Delegation Pitches Ideas to County

WINNSBORO – In a meeting at the Midlands Tech QuickJobs center Monday night, six of seven County Council members sat down with Fairfield County’s legislative delegation to begin discussions about the future impact of expected revenues from two new reactors currently under construction at the V.C. Summer Station in Jenkinsville.

It was the first of what Council Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) said would be a series of meetings with Fairfield’s various governing bodies, with future meetings to include the Fairfield County School Board and the towns of Winnsboro, Ridgeway and Jenkinsville. The talks would culminate in a joint meeting, Ferguson said, at which time it was hoped that the County would have acquired input from the Central Midlands Council of Governments (COG), with whom the County has recently contracted to perform long-range strategic planning.

The meeting began with a recap of the County’s long-term economic development plan, beginning with its adoption by Council in 2009, the construction of the Midlands Tech facility, the construction of a speculative (spec) building at the Walter Brown II Industrial Park and the purchase and development of property off Peach Road, now known as the Fairfield Commerce Center. The recap also touched on 2013’s $24.06 million bond issue, the repayment of which relies heavily on the projected V.C. Summer fee-in-lieu of taxes revenues (estimated to be between $80-$100 million annually).

“The purpose was to front-end load the money and plan when the new revenues will be coming in from the nuclear reactors coming on line, then make the decisions on how to pay those back and do things long term,” Interim County Administrator Milton Pope said.

The bond also obligates some of the reactor money, acting as “another legal protection for those monies in case there were a raid to take away a portion of the money from Fairfield County,” Pope said, referencing bills circulating at the state capital designed to share that revenue with other counties.

The Legislative Delegation

Fairfield County’s representatives in Columbia, Rep. MaryGail Douglas (D-41) and Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17) have been clamoring for a sit-down with County Council to plan for the reactor money since at least last spring, and at the June 16 intergovernmental meeting the issue came to a head. Over a long, tense exchange, the delegation and Ferguson engaged in heated spat over who had ignored who’s invitation to planning talks. Monday night, however, both sides were on their best behavior as Douglas kicked things off by suggesting a more comprehensive recreation plan.

The 2013 bond allocates $3.5 million for the development of recreational facilities, with $500,000 to be spent in each of the county’s seven districts. Apart from Kamau Marcharia’s plan to erect a large facility in District 4, preliminary talks in the remaining district have thus far focused on smaller parks.

“I want our vision for Fairfield County to be more than swing sets and walking trails and basketball courts,” Douglas said. “It’s got to be more than that.”

Douglas also said the reactor revenues could also be used for property tax relief, as well as to address needs at, or alternatives to, Fairfield Memorial Hospital.

“I’ve had a vested interest in that hospital for many, many years,” Douglas said, “but we have to be realistic. We can’t continue to operate a hospital in the current state that it’s in. We’ve got to have some kind of medical care, but the vision you could have with another type of medical care in the community could be done.”

Coleman said infrastructure – primarily a secure source of potable water for both residential and future economic growth – was critical, as was property tax relief. Coleman also suggested that some of the reactor money could be devoted to scholarships for local students, while a portion could be returned to Fairfield County citizens as well as set aside for emergencies.

“Just because we have this money doesn’t mean we have to spend it all,” Coleman said. “We need to save some money in case something happens out there (at V.C. Summer).”

No date has been set for future planning sessions. Councilman Mikel Trapp (District 3) was not present at Monday night’s meeting.