County Grants Spark Questions

WINNSBORO (Nov. 27, 2015) – With members Marion Robinson (District 5) and Dan Ruff (District 1) both absent Monday night, County Council postponed the announcement of the recipients of this year’s community enhancement grants.

The delay gave Council, as well as members of the public, an opportunity to question how those grants were awarded.

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright encouraged Council to focus on real needs, not just mere wants, while District 2 resident Elizabeth Jenkins added that Council should use caution when treading the line between ‘church and state.’ Jenkins also said she hoped Council was not considering expanding the grants.

“I think we would all support anyone who lost anything in the floods, people who need to eat, power, things like that,” Jenkins said, addressing Council during the first public comment portion of the meeting. “We need to be very careful not to set a precedent and enhance the communities any more than they are already enhanced by the County.”

District 3 Councilman Walter Larry Stewart said he was concerned about accountability associated with the grants.

“I know some of these organizations that we’re giving these grants to use them properly,” Stewart said, “but I’m concerned that there is no follow-up, or nothing that closes the loop that says what they spent the money for. We need to take a look at this a little closer.”

Milton Pope, Interim County Administrator, however, said County staff does, in fact, have a system of accountability in place.

“The staff has to accumulate all of the receipts from those items that are expended, so we have the receipting for those things,” Pope said. “If the Council has questions about the program or it wants to ratchet up the regulatory process of that, we clearly can do that; but we clearly have criteria that we judge these by to make those recommendations (to Council).”

Billy Smith (District 7) said there had been issues in the past where County staff had difficulty obtaining receipts from organizations that received grants and suggested that the County may want to consider moving toward a reimbursement system.

“I think it might be a good idea to tie into this that, to get the money, maybe the organizations have to hand in the receipt first then they’ll be reimbursed,” Smith said. “That’s the way we do a lot of other things. I think that might be a little bit better way of doing it.”

Councilman Kamau Marcharia (District 4) said it should be up to individual Council members to police their own districts.

“I looked at my particular district,” Marcharia said. “I kind of know it well, and I looked at another district and I saw requests on other districts that I had never seen before. But I’m going to leave that up to the individual Councilperson in his district to observe that and bring it into check if they see something that is out of balance.”

After the meeting, Smith said Council had received some recommendations from staff this year that could stretch the invisible line between church and state.

“In the past there was a lot of talk about back-to-school supplies, food drives and things of that nature going through churches, and I don’t mind that. They’re a facilitator,” Smith said. “There are some things in there (this year) that are more (for the church), and I think we need to take a closer look at those.”

Council will take the grants up again during their Dec. 15 meeting.