Council Clips Allocations, Keeps Roads Fee in Place

Good Sam, Others ‘Frozen’ at 14-15 Levels

WINNSBORO – In a complete reversal of last week’s consensus following a final budget work session, County Council Monday night sliced into a laundry list of social program allocations before passing third and final reading of the 2015-2016 budget.

Although the cuts were part of a recommendation by County Administrator Milton Pope as an alternative to levying a new roads maintenance fee, Council passed the budget with the fee intact.

To Fee or Not to Fee

Talk of the fee first surfaced during Council’s May 7 budget work session, and came at the suggestion of the County Transportation Committee (CTC), according to Pope. The proposed $5 a year on personal vehicles and $10 a year on commercial vehicles, which would be added to Fairfield County car tax bills, would raise an estimated $123,570 to provide maintenance on County improved roads and dirt roads.

An effort to squash the fee and replace it with savings from within the budget came from Council members Walter Larry Stewart (District 3), Dan Ruff (District 1) and Billy Smith (District 7), prompting Pope to dig into the budget. At Council’s June 1 work session, Pope brought forward an option to cut into Council’s cell phone budget, meals for Council, meals and lodging for the Administrator and the County attorney, dues and membership fees for the Administrator, unemployment insurance and fuel for County vehicles. The option also included freezing allocations at 2014-2015 levels for the Good Samaritan House, the Board of Disabilities and Special Needs, Transitions, the American Red Cross and the Chameleon Inspirations Learning Center.

After considerable discussion of the alternative (see the June 5 edition of The Voice), Council decided against the cuts by a 4-3 consensus, leaving the road maintenance fee as is. Chairwoman Carolyn Robinsons (District 2) was the deciding voice, siding with Kamau Marcharia (District 4), Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) and Marion Robinson (District 5).

By Monday night, however, both Robinsons had flipped.

“It was a snap decision,” Chairwoman Robinson said after the meeting. “Go back and check. Carolyn’s always had problems with those gifts. This is not my first rodeo to say ‘no’.”

A handful of citizens spoke out against the fee during the firsts public comment portion of the meeting, including District 2 resident Beth Jenkins, District 4 resident Jeff Schaffer and District 3 residents William Coleman, Wanda Carnes and Debra Matthews.

“We have people living in this county paycheck to paycheck,” Matthews said. “They can’t pay their utility bills. Those are the folks who that $5 will affect. I cannot believe you cannot get $124,000 out of an over $30 million budget. I don’t buy it.”

Night of the Long Knives

Smith’s motion cut $1,250 each from the American Red Cross and the Chameleon Learning Center and $2,500 each from the Good Samaritan House and Transitions. His motion also included cuts of $5,000 each, not recommended by Pope, to the Eau Claire Health Cooperative, the Boys and Girls Club and the Harvest Hope Food Bank.

Smith stressed that the reductions were not actual cuts, but a freezing of funds at last year’s levels. Thus, Good Samaritan’s allocation will stand at $25,000; Transitions at $2,500; the Red Cross at $3,750; Chameleon at $4,000; and Eau Claire at $55,000.

The Boys and Girls Club and Harvest Hope were new allocations proposed in this year’s budget and will therefore receive zero dollars from the County in 2015-2016. No reductions were made to the Board of Disabilities and Special Needs, which will receive $43,000 (up from $32,000 last year).

Pope reported to Council that the cuts represented a reduction of $29,100, and his calculations included a reduction of $1,350 from the recreation budget for promotional supplies – another motion by Smith; however, one that failed to carry on a 3-4 vote, with only Smith, Ruff and Stewart voting in favor.

Pope told The Voice Tuesday via email that the vote on the $1,350 was not “officially recorded,” although The Voice’s recording of the proceedings indicate that it was.

“As a means to clarify Council’s wishes, I specifically went through all of the proposed budget reductions in the Smith motion(s) to make sure members knew what they were voting on and voting for,” Pope wrote. “Council then ‘officially’ voted (raising of their hand) on the reductions, which included the $1,350.  This reduction is reflected in the final general fund budget total number.”

The Chairwoman said the cuts, based on Pope’s original calculation of $29,100, would translate as a savings to taxpayers of approximately one half of one cent on their tax bills.

Smith also pushed through a motion to reduce Council’s cell phone line item by $5,250, which passed on a 6-1 vote. Marcharia, while he said he was not on the County’s cell phone plan, voted against the measure.

Smith also moved to reduce line items for County Council catered and prepared meals; County attorney meals and lodging; County Administrator dues and memberships; and County Administrator meals and lodging by $500 each for a total of $2,000.

“I just find it absurd to attack this kind of petty little stuff,” Marcharia said before the vote.

The catered meals, Chairwoman Robinson said, included County sponsored functions, like Industry Appreciation Night and next week’s intergovernmental meeting.

“The other night we had a very nice event for industry appreciation that we had not had in two years to thank all the companies, so I guess that takes that out as well,” she said prior to the vote.

After the motion failed to carry on a 3-4 vote, with only Smith, Ruff and Stewart voting in favor, Robinson addressed the freshmen Council members.

“You’ve been here five months,” she said. “You have no idea how much we have to meet with other folks in order to build a relationship.”

‘Enough Talk’

Once the pruning knives had been put away, Kinley moved to approve the slightly leaner budget with the fee still in place and a 2 percent cost of living increase for County employees, to include countywide elected officials. Marion Robinson offered a second just as Stewart tried to be recognized.

“Before we do that I have an additional motion,” Stewart said.

Marcharia noted that there was a motion on the floor, and Kinley asked the Chairwoman to call for the question.

“You need to understand what I’m getting ready to do,” Stewart said.

“But you can’t do that,” Marcharia said. “She’s called for the question.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Stewart said. “We are not – it appears that she is trying to approve something that I am not prepared to approve, and she’s trying to close out the discussion.”

“We’ve had enough discussion,” Kinley said.

Chairwoman Robinson called for a vote on the call for the question, which passed 4-3, with Stewart, Ruff and Smith voting against. Robinson then called for a final vote on the budget, which passed along the same lines, 4-3.

“My motion as going to be to remove the $123,570 for the road maintenance fee,” Stewart said afterwards. “Just take it totally out of the budget.”

Near the close of the meeting, during County Council time, Stewart questioned the final vote.

“We had motions to amend,” Stewart, addressing the Chairwoman, said. “You recognized Mrs. Kinley before us and accepted her motion, which shut us out of the process. That was patently unfair and very irregular, and I question whether what we have done after that is illegal, because of the procedure that you used.

“In a budget of $35 million, this ($123,570), that is less than two-tenths of 1 percent,” he continued. “I know in this budget somewhere there is some excess that we could have looked at, instead of putting an additional burden, an addition levy on the citizens.”

Ruff said he was also disappointed Council did not eliminate the road fee. Smith agreed, but said Kinley’s move was a parliamentary one that was just “part of the process.”

“We just lost on that one,” Smith said.

Smith also said Council should take a harder look at how it handles allocations overall.

“At some point I think this Council needs to have a discussion about not continuing to take money from citizens and then give it to something else,” Smith said. “We can take money away from folks just as well as we can give to them, or take away from them less as well as we can give them more. This is just taking money from folks and sending it somewhere else. At some point we have to think a little bit less about spending and spending and spending and we have to think about cutting.”