Council gives Chamber notice

WINNSBORO – When the new leader of the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce failed to satisfy Council’s concerns last week, during a budget workshop, regarding the Chamber’s plans for the upcoming budget year, Council threatened to reduce the funding it provides for the Chamber from $87,500 to $25,000 unless the Chamber provided a financial roadmap for how it plans to spend that funding in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

“I’m not opposed to continuing our full funding for the Chamber,” Council Chairman Billy Smith said, “but we need a plan to know what they’re going to do with it.”

Chris Timmers, who was introduced by the Chamber Board as the Interim Director of the Chamber during a member breakfast on March 2, introduced himself as Executive Director of the Chamber when he came before Council during the April 17 workshop. Asked by The Voice following the meeting to clarify Timmers’ job title, Board Chairman Harper Shull said Timmers had not been hired to be the Executive Director.

“He is the Interim Director,” Shull said.

After announcing to Council that March 31 was the Chamber’s 73rd anniversary, informing Council that Providence Health was clearing ground to construct a new emergency facility in Fairfield County and that Lake Wateree is sold out and being developed to the max, Timmers said the Chamber had McMaster Enterprises, which is owned by Bill McMaster, Shull’s employer, to thank for having rent-free office space. Timmers said that was way the Chamber has saved Council money.

However, Council has never funded office space for the Chamber according to several Council members. Prior to moving into its current offices at 120 N. Congress Street, which were offered by McMaster, the Chamber occupied rent-free offices in the Town Clock tower which is owned by the Town of Winnsboro.

Timmers said the Chamber’s programs include the S.C. Railroad Museum, the Big Grab Yard Sale, Arts on the Ridge and Ag & Art. However, when asked about the Chamber’s involvement with the Railroad Museum and Arts on the Ridge, Susan Yenner, secretary of the Chamber, said those are not financially supported by the Chamber, but are included in the Chamber’s promotional material.

When Council Chairman Billy Smith inquired about the amount of funding provided to the Chamber by the Town of Winnsboro and what that funding is used for, Timmers looked to Chamber Board Chairman, Harper Shull, for answers and then sat down.

Shull said the Town provided the Chamber with about $35,000 last year, but that it was a one-time deal and was to be renegotiated each year. As for how that money was spent, Shull looked to Chamber Secretary Susan Yenner in the audience for guidance. Yenner, who has been managing the Chamber’s day to day business since former President/CEO Terry Vickers resigned last October, said the money went to such events as Pumpkin Fest and Spirit Fest, before Shull picked back up and continued.

Shull expressed a dim view of whether the Chamber should be taking any money from the town government for events in the town.

“We’re not exactly sure how we go forward with that just because there is a, I won’t say a conflict of interest, I mean, it’s the county seat of Fairfield County, and maybe previously we spent too much time in downtown Winnsboro versus the County as a whole,” Shull said.

“Well, I think if the Town is giving you the money, it’s appropriate you spend it there,” Smith said.

Shull also suggested changes that might be coming to the Rock Around the Clock festival, including an admission charge. He also announced that Sam Edenfield would not be able to run the car show aspect of the festival this year.

“We had some feedback last year about Rock Around the Clock. We had a lot of mayhem,” Shull said. “We like to keep law and order as much as possible.”

Chief John Seibles of the Winnsboro Department of Public Safety said he does not remember there were any problems at the festival last year.

“It was a lot larger than in past years and it ran rather smoothly as I recall,” Seibles said.

When Smith asked about the Chamber’s annual golf tournament fundraiser that he discontinued this year and questioned how the Chamber planned to make up for the $8,000 it would lose without the tournament, Shull said the tournament was solely on the back of Winnsboro Petroleum, which is owned by McMaster, and other corporate sponsors.

“It became a lot for me to ask Coca Cola and Budweiser [for sponsorships],” Shull said. He also said the tournament had to be held out of county because there is no golf course in Fairfield County. He said the Board is tossing around another event that could be held in the county.

At the end of the six-hour budget workshop, Council appeared satisfied with the administrative recommendations for allocations for all the agencies supported by the County, except for those recommended for the Chamber and for Fairfield County Disabilities and Special Needs. Council suggested omitting funding for a $19,000 vehicle for DSN, saying that some of DSN’s vehicles still had low mileage.

“I wasn’t too impressed with some of the answers we received from the Chamber of Commerce tonight,” Smith told Council. “If they are not even sure they’re going to continue doing the things that we all know they have been doing, I think that leaves a question for us. If they don’t know what they’re going to continue to be doing, then how do we know how to continue to fund them?”

“Are they going to be doing away with Rock Around the Clock?” Councilman Doug Pauley asked.

“It kind of sounds that way,” Smith said. “I understand the Chamber is in a transitional period, but it seems the boat is rather rocky at the current time. Before we pass along any taxpayers’ monies, I’m just concerned about what the Chamber is going to do in the future,” Smith said.

County Administrator Jason Taylor met with the Chamber Board the morning following the meeting, explaining what Council is looking for in the way of a spending plan for the coming fiscal year. The Chamber’s response is due to Taylor no later than May 9.

In another funding concern, Council questioned Fairfield County Sheriff Will Montgomery’s request for funds in excess of Taylor’s recommendation. Montgomery requested additional funds for raises for his department that exceeded administrative recommendations. Smith said he would like to hear more details from Montgomery about the additional funding request.

Council held a third budget workshop on April 24 and final reading on the budget will be held at the regular meeting on May 14.