County Council budget fails; Trapp claims racial bias

Negotiations were intense as Councilman Bell sought support from Bertha Goins for the recreation center he wants in Ridgeway. | Photos: Michael Smith

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County doesn’t have a budget.

In a 3-3 vote Tuesday night, the proposed $45.2 million budget failed to garner enough support to pass third reading, with one council member claiming the budget was racially biased against African-Americans.

Council members supporting the budget were Bertha Goins, Clarence Gilbert and Chairman Neil Robinson.

Trapp

Douglas Pauley, Moses Bell and Mikel Trapp opposed. Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas was absent, setting up the tie vote.

That vote followed a motion to amend the budget to include $900,000 in additional recreation spending – $800,000 for a recreation center in Bell’s district and $100,000 for two mini-parks in Trapp’s district.

That motion failed 4-2, with Bell and Trapp the only council members supporting it.

Moments later, Trapp walked out while the meeting was still in progress. He didn’t return.

Council members took a 15-minute recess before voting, but ultimately weren’t able to muster enough votes to pass the budget.

County Administrator Jason Taylor said another budget workshop would be scheduled to hash out differences before a re-vote is taken. The county has until June 30 to adopt the budget.

Judging by comments from council members, reaching a consensus won’t be easy.

Pauley opposed the budget over concerns about ballooning budget costs.

“I cannot vote for this budget because it’s up 12 percent,” Pauley said. “There has been an average of 5.5 percent in annual increases for the past four years.

Councilman Pauley voted against the budget, saying it was too expensive.

“Another reason I oppose the budget is because it brings us back to across the board salary increases as opposed to the merit-based system that the last council worked for three years to have put in place,” Pauley continued.

Bell and Trapp opposed the budget because they wanted to spend more.

Bell offered to drop his request to $400,000, but the idea never gained traction.

“I support recreation in local communities,” he said. “Those who write and want to make me a villain, I will proudly wear that as a badge of honor.”

Trapp claimed the county budget was racially driven. He said it excludes African-Americans while subsidizing a fire station and farmer’s market that he claimed benefit white people primarily.

“In this budget we don’t have anything for the black community in the county,” Trapp said. “Every time someone asks for something for the black community, it’s always said that taxes are going up.”

Goins pushed back on claims of racism.

She said she plans to return a recent award because it recognizes her for being the first African-American elected to Fairfield County Council. She’s returning it because she said she doesn’t believe in labels.

“When I hear the comments that are made and all the negativity, I have to do what my heart says and what my spirit says, and what I know is true,” Goins said.

“We all came into this world with our breath, we all will leave this world with our breath,” Goins continued. “We talk about racism all the time, but many times those who talk about it are the racists. Those who talk about it are the dividers.”

In trying to fund recreation centers, Bell suggested dipping into the fund balance. Although there’s technically about $24 million in reserve, roughly half is already dedicated to the old hospital, the airport and other projects, leaving about $12.7 million in unencumbered funds.

The county also plans to spend about $8 million over the next several years repurposing the old Mt. Zion building into a new county administration building.

Bell also proposed spending money left over from the 2013 $24M bond, which he said could help subsidze Ridgeway recreation. Of the $4M left from the bond, about $400,000 to $450,000 in funds are not encumbered, Taylor said.

Pauley noted that the county budget has benefited Bell’s district greatly. In recent years, Ridgeway has received $150,000 for a park, $100,000 for an EMS station and a $1 million fire station, he said. He said the county has also helped with the water tower and sidewalks.

“For it to be said that nothing was spent in Ridgeway is absolutely not true,” Pauley said. “A lot of things in Ridgeway might not have been done when Councilman Bell was on council, but a previous councilman got things done in his area.”