Water authority becoming reality

WINNSBORO – It’s been years since Fairfield county and municipal leaders first floated a concept of a regional water and sewer authority.

Now that its composition has been finalized, the group plans to chart new waters as it attempts to define and fulfill its mission of enhancing economic development in Fairfield County.

“Industry absolutely has to have basic infrastructure,” County Administrator Jason Taylor said. “The Town of Winnsboro and other entities need to come together because none of us can do it alone.”

On Tuesday, County Council unanimously approved a resolution approving the final composition of the water authority.

Winnsboro Town Council approved a similarly worded resolution last week.

The resolutions passed by the Fairfield and Winnsboro councils shave the authority board from seven to five members, drawing two Fairfield County representatives – Council Chairman Neil Robinson and Taylor. Winnsboro Town Manager Don Wood and Gaddy.

Kyle Crager, the authority’s fifth member, was jointly appointed by the county and town.

Ensuring Fairfield County has sufficient infrastructure is particularly important as it relates to the mega site off I-77, where sufficient sewer capacity doesn’t exist.

Taylor said new sewer lines potentially cost tens of millions of dollars more than water lines. The state recently awarded a $2 million grant for infrastructure design and prep work and though helpful, it’s only a fraction of what’s needed.

“The Town [of Winnsboro] has done a wonderful job in getting water infrastructure in place so we have sufficient water capacity. However sewer is much more expensive.” Taylor said.

As the authority board mulls ways to generate funds, other ideas were put forward at Monday night’s council meeting.

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright repeated his call for a penny sales tax to fund water and sewer upgrades.

“Infrastructure is an imperative,” Bright said. “If we had started this five years ago, we would already have $10 million that we could put forward to water and sewer to bring families, homes, industry new jobs and grow the economy.”

Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas proposed taxing agricultural real properties that receive a tax break from the state.

Douglas proposed adding a $1 per acre tax on qualifying properties, which he said would generate $450,000 a year that could be applied to water and sewer expenses.

“I have ag land that I own and I’m paying next to nothing,” he said. “Everyone else who has less than five acres is paying a lot more taxes. I feel like every [agriculturally exempt] acre in Fairfield County needs to have an extra dollar in taxes on it.”

In South Carolina, agricultural real property is taxed at 4 percent of its fair market value. Non-agricultural property is taxed at 6 percent.

For the owner of property valued at $100,000, a Fairfield County landowner receiving the tax break pays $814 less than owners not receiving it.

Critics, however, say the exemptions unfairly benefit developers who claim the exemption on undeveloped property, most harvesting trees to technically qualify for the exemption.

The 2 percent tax break isn’t permanent. Once the land use changes, the rate rolls back to 6 percent and landowners are responsible for paying the difference, according to state law.

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