Admin building faces opposition

Smith Pushes Back In 15-Minute Soliloquy

WINNSBORO – Council members voted 4-0 to approve second reading of an ordinance authorizing development of a new administration building and a lease agreement and other contracts associated with the Mt. Zion site.

But repurposing the old Mt. Zion institute into a new Fairfield County administration building is far from a slam dunk.

Council members Dan Ruff and Douglas Pauley abstained as they did during first reading two weeks ago.

Mikel Trapp was absent Monday, though he voted against first reading.

Council members Cornelius Robinson, Ruff and Pauley called for public forums to be held before third reading, though Robinson ultimately voted in favor of second reading.

“We need to have an open forum before we have third reading so everyone is aware of what’s going on,” Ruff said. “Also I would like to get written estimates for this building and other options. This is a big deal. We have to take time to make sure what we do is right.”

“We still have some things with the contract to button up,” Smith conceded. He said the $11.4 million proposal relies heavily on selling tax credits, which is why he thinks it’s the best option. But if the deal falls through, the alternative is to demolish the building altogether, he said.

“[Mt. Zion] is the only thing I see that we can do and afford to do,” he said. “It’s not the ideal situation, but when you’re $40 million plus in debt and unable to borrow any more, you have to dig out of those holes.”

Fairfield County is working with a North Carolina developer proposed plans to redevelop the site.

More than half of the estimated cost – about $6.5 million – would come from tax credits and private equity from the developer, with county lease payments covering the difference.

County leaders say the 45,000-square-foot building would more than double the existing 21,000-square-foot building, which faces $3 million in repairs.

Once again, the Mt. Zion issue drew several residents to the podium Monday night, including candidates for public office.

Marie Rosborough, who opposes the site, said she fears it limits citizens’ access to law enforcement.

“There’s no justification for putting the sheriff’s office there,” Rosborough said. “You’re not responsible for saving buildings. That’s not your role. Your job is to provide taxpayers the most for their money.”

Randy Bright of Ridgeway cautioned the council against moving forward too quickly.

“The reasons and details of the plan were poorly communicated. We don’t know the final cost,” Bright said. “That was clear in last week’s meeting and it was so clear, the numbers didn’t even add up. We’ve got to get a whole lot more details and better communication of this plan.”

Dena Boorda said she and her husband had more at stake than anyone else because they live directly across the street from the teacherage.

“It’s literally out our front door,” Boorda said. “We are not opposed to the project given certain criteria can be met. We are willing to hear the facts. We haven’t seen any documents so I’m respectfully requesting that we have an opportunity to get the facts and be able to ask questions.”

Some Fairfield County residents propose looking at Wal-Mart instead of Mt. Zion for an administration building.

Ordinarily reserved and guarded in his comments, Smith spoke from the heart during a 15-minute soliloquy during the council comments portion of the meeting, He systematically shot down the various populist arguments against repurposing Mt. Zion Institute property into a new county administration building.

“If third reading were tonight, I’d vote no,” he said. “But I would ask those who are opposed to say where the money for an alternative[new administration building or renovation] is going to come from.”

Smith touched on a variety of subjects, including economic development, public safety and fiscal responsibility. His rebuttals were candid.

“If we want to take that asset[Walmart]  off the market, we can do that,” Smith said.

But he said that the day after Element announced it may slash 126 jobs due to U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, an economic prospect representing up to 250 jobs toured the shuttered Wal-Mart building at 721 Highway 321 Bypass.

The City of Aiken, for example, is following a similar route, spending $9.5 million from a 20-year bond to refurbish a former Food Lion into a new public safety headquarters.

Smith said that wouldn’t work in Fairfield County because frivolous spending by the previous council has eroded the county’s borrowing capacity.

He also said Wal-Mart is ineligible for the tax credits for which Mt. Zion qualifies. And, Wal-Mart continues to pay property taxes and as it does, the building gets looks on a regular basis from prospective industries. The same is true of the Fairfield Memorial Hospital site, Smith said.

“These alternatives would be no less expensive,” he said. “They would be the same, if not more. And we wouldn’t get tax credits to help pay for those.”

He debunked an argument that the new building would attract vagrants, noting in recent weeks that homeless people were living in the structure and commonly loiter around it at present.

Smith said the proposed facility would feature more parking, increased police presence and could lead to employees spending more money downtown.

He said he’d support deed restrictions to prevent developers from using the administration building proposal as a launching pad to develop any residential properties, addressing the fears of low-income housing coming into the area.

“If you have a better plan, bring it forward and we’ll consider it,” Smith said. “If this plan doesn’t go forward, my next move is to push demolishing the building so that we can solve its future, once and for all.”

Blaming Fairfield County’s financial predicament on past council members who he said pushed for a $24 million bond issue in 2013, Smith said they banked on revenues from the failed V.C. Summer nuclear plant to repay the bond, revenues that never materialized.

“Because of that $24 million bond, we can’t finance a thing,” he said.


  1. TOM DAVIS says


Speak Your Mind