A Tale of Two Counties

“The Tale of Two Counties” is more than a comparative analysis of the contrasting efficiencies of two county governments – Fairfield and Edgefield counties. It is also a call to arms to demand an effective and efficient government for Fairfield County citizens.

Fairfield County’s budgeting priority should be to reach out to Edgefield County for comprehensive coaching. Edgefield has the Holy Grail of budgets when compared to ours. They do not have the fat in their budget to suddenly embark on a $300,000+ “Collapsing Football Field.” Edgefield obviously knows how to prioritize needs over wants and monuments to waste. Perhaps coaching from the Edgefield government team will show Fairfield how to better channel the citizens’ money away from feeding the government and into more productive services.

There are many similarities between the two counties besides their names. They are both beautiful rural counties located adjacent to a small metro area. Both have population densities well below state average, but Edgefield has less land mass and 3,000 more residents. Both counties are blessed with a willing and hardworking labor force. Both counties are naturally blessed.

The similarities, however, abruptly end when comparing government resource management. The latest data supplied by the S.C. Association of Counties reflects Edgefield’s obvious superiority over Fairfield in government efficiency. Additional validations of Fairfield’s comparative government inefficiency is found throughout its own ‘Tax Rate and Service Analysis.’ Edgefield’s general fund total is $307 per capita, while Fairfield spends more than three times as much at $1,005. Fairfield’s per capita budget figure is still more than three times larger even when factoring the two departments not in Edgefield’s’ budget. Yes, Fairfield’s’ government spends a lot more money.

Fairfield’s’ massive government spending is fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars from V.C. Summer, plus one of the highest property tax rates in the state. In contrast, Edgefield’s’ total millage rate is 109 vs. our 183, which is a 68 percent increase over Edgefield’s. Edgefield has 5.56 government employees per capita but we nearly double that figure with 11.35 employees per capita. For argument’s sake, you can true up Edgefield’s’ staffing in law enforcement, EMS, dispatch and animal control to match Fairfield’s’ and you will still find we have 30 percent more employees than our sister county.

I am not saying our staffing levels are optimum. Further, Edgefield’s’ government payroll total is $5.4 million while ours is a whopping 59 percent, more at $8.6 million. This helps to explain why (along with our more than substantial school spending) Edgefield has a mill value of $72,000 and ours is an incredible $127,000, or 76 percent more. Clearly, Fairfield County’s government requires a lot more money to operate.

One might think our V.C. Summer riches and our immense government apparatus would produce a far superior quality of life. Not so fast my friend.

When compared to Edgefield (or many other counties) we see Fairfield can have a great future if we properly manage our resources. As of March 2015, Fairfield had the state’s 31st lowest unemployment rate and Edgefield had the state’s 15th lowest unemployment rate. Note Edgefield’s efficient government is also able to afford higher average employee salaries. Based on calculating the average government employee salary for Fairfield ($8.6 million payroll ÷ 309 employees) and Edgefield ($5.4 million payroll ÷ 170 employees) we see true income inequality between the two government employee teams. Additionally, according to the Robert Wood Johnson foundation, Edgefield’s’ overall health environment factor is ranked 20th in the state while ours is ranked 29th. Further, Edgefield’s’ physical environment is ranked 20th in the state while ours 46th. Additionally, 46 percent of Edgefield’s’ citizens have access to exercise opportunities but it’s only 34 percent in Fairfield, despite a recreation budget that is more than five times larger per capita.

The bottom line: We can do a much better job of serving the citizens with a more effective and efficient government in Fairfield County. I have a great deal of confidence that our County Council will make the hard decisions and take bold steps to ensure our government is properly set up to prudently manage our vast resources. Soon, please.


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