Commerce Center Faces Funding Shortfall

WINNSBORO (Nov. 3, 2016) – While the Oct. 24 County Council meeting agenda was light, it was not without controversy over how to fund infrastructure for Phase II of the Commerce Center.

County Administrator Jason Taylor introduced the agenda item, a request of action from the Administration and Finance Committee that read: “Phase II on-site roadway, water and wastewater improvements to serve Fairfield Commerce Center.”

Taylor fleshed out the agenda item and explained that a funding shortfall exists for the project.

“We had $5,970,000 budgeted (from the $24 million bond) for this, but the bid came in at $6,542,214.50. With (bid) alternates of $497,120, the total comes to $7,039,334.50,” Taylor told Council. “That leaves a shortfall of $1,069,334.50.”

To cover that shortfall, Taylor reviewed Council’s options to include applying for a $500,000 Rural Infrastructure Authority grant and a $300,000 Site Enhancement Grant from the S.C. Department of Commerce. He suggested Council could choose to take an additional $400,000 from bond money.

“If they did not give us that total sum of grant money and if a match is required, then I would be erring on the high side in the additional bond money request. If we get full funding in the grant request, then the additional bond money needed would be less, by $130,666,” Taylor told The Voice.

Another option to cover the shortfall would be to use the $1.1 million the County received this year from its Multi-County Park agreement, Taylor said.

Council member Marion Robinson (District 5) ‘so moved,’ with the only discussion coming from Councilman Billy Smith (District 7).

Smith said he could not vote in favor of the request for two reasons, the first being that Council did not receive the 400 pages of information on the agenda item to be voted on until Friday before the Monday meeting. He said he needed more time to read through it.

Council recently had issues with the (construction of two) fire stations because documents were probably not looked at to the extent they should have been and then remediation work had to be done on retaining ponds, Smith said.

“I don’t want something like that to happen here. Between Friday and today is not enough time for me to look at this document,” Smith said.

Secondly, Smith said that while he was in favor of the Phase II infrastructure work at the Commerce Center, he had reservations about using bond money at this time.

“Another thing that concerns me is the Courthouse and what we’re going to do to remediate the issues there,” Smith said. “The Courthouse is a top priority at this time. Considering we have the Caterpillar building about to come open and the spec building and other buildings and infrastructure that are open at this time, could this (bond) money be re-routed for use on the Courthouse if it was needed? Otherwise, I don’t know how we’ll pay for the fixes at the Courthouse and build another one.

“If we plan to do that (Courthouse repairs) in the next three years, and if we spend this (bond) money now . . . you’re going to see another bond issued by this Council to pay for the Courthouse. That’s the only way it will happen,” Smith said. “That considered, I am in support of this (Phase II infrastructure work), but I can’t see us doing it at this time.”

Robinson’s motion passed 4-1 with Smith voting against the measure. Councilman Dan Ruff (District 1) was absent, and the District 3 seat is currently vacant.

Other Business

Council voted unanimously to pass first reading, by title only, of Ordinance 673, authorizing an amendment to the master agreement governing the I-77 Corridor Regional Industrial Park to expand the boundaries of the park to include property in Richland County for Project Alimex.

Taylor introduced Bob Ennis as the new Fairfield County Animal Control Director, taking over from former Director James Hill who was hired in July. Taylor praised Ennis’ background in animal care, explaining that Ennis came to the County three weeks ago from Pets, Inc. a non-profit rescue organization in West Columbia where he served as Executive Director.

“We’re glad to have him here with us,” Taylor said.

Council voted to go into executive session to discuss a contractual matter regarding Fairfield County Airport, a personnel matter (Clerk to Council’s position) and a pending legal matter regarding purchase of property. Parker Poe attorney Ray Jones was included in the executive session. No votes were taken when Council returned to public session.