Admin forum scheduled for Sept. 20

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County residents with a vested interest in an $11.5 million project that would repurpose the old Mt. Zion Institute into new county offices will have a chance to have their questions answered at an upcoming public forum.

The forum is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 20 at the Fairfield County campus of Midland Technical College. It will be held from 5 to 8 p.m., and residents are asked to submit written questions in advance.

Thursday’s forum follows considerable debate on the proposed administration office project, which for the third meeting in a row, received considerable discussion among County Council members and residents alike.

At least four supporters addressed the council Monday night, each saying repurposing the Mt. Zion property is exactly what the Town of Winnsboro needs.

“It has sadly become a tragic site,” retired State newspaper columnist Bill McDonald said about the Mt. Zion property. “I can’t understand why a certain group of people oppose the reincarnation of the Mt. Zion Institute.”

Donnie Laird, also speaking during public input, said the current proposal of seeking tax credits to help pay for the work is the only feasible option.

“The county cannot borrow any more money,” Laird said.

The strongest comments, however, came from Bill Haslett.

“It’s very difficult to see a town dry up like Winnsboro has done. People don’t want to live in Winnsboro because it looks like the devil,” Haslett said.

“I’m disappointed in the two council members who have sat on the fence,” Haslett continued. “I believe that’s a political move to get votes in the next election.”

The latter remarks drew a response from Councilman Dan Ruff, one of two council members Haslett indirectly referenced. Ruff denied that he is on the fence.

“It’s about trying to make the best decision you can make. If you don’t know and you’re not sure, you can’t vote,” Ruff said.

Some candidates seeking office and other private residents opposed to the Mt. Zion plan took to the podium as well.

“It’s a neighborhood that needs to stay a neighborhood,” local resident Pam Smith said. “We’ve spoken to an attorney to see what we would have to do to protect the properties.”

As proposed, about half of the $11.5 million project would come from a series of state and federal historic tax credits totaling $5.4 million.

Another $4.5 million would come in the form of a construction loan, as well as $1.1 million in equity from money the developer would raise.

If built, the new administration building would more than double the square footage of the existing 21,000-square-foot space of the old one.

Council members discussed the proposal in executive session later in the meeting, but took no action.

In other business, the council unanimously approved second reading of an ordinance accepting the conveyance of 2.72 acres on Old Windmill Road near Ridgeway.

Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas, who’s spearheading the plan, said it’s his hope that a four-bay public safety building can be built on the property.

Two bays would serve fire engines, one would serve the sheriff’s office and the final bay would be dedicated to EMS.

Lake Wateree Presbyterian Church is providing the property. Land would revert back to the church if the station isn’t built.

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