Budget tweaks divide Council

Councilman Moses Bell, right, and Councilwoman Bertha Goins

WINNSBORO – In a series of votes Monday night, council members struck down budget amendments that would have added $900,000 in recreation improvements, $100,000 for vehicle replacement and a $1.2 million economic development office.

Council members also balked at a proposal to fund individual discretionary spending accounts following public outcry. As one council member suggested, the votes boiled down to needs versus wants.

“We cannot be selfish and think that we have all the answers,” said Councilman Clarence Gilbert. “I wouldn’t put a playground in my backyard if I knew I needed a refrigerator in my house and I didn’t have enough money for both.”

Councilman Douglas Pauley, who voted against most of the amendments, raised concerns that the proposed $45.2 million budget rose 12 percent while it increased only an average of about 5 percent during the last four years.

Reading from a prepared statement, Pauley called upon council members to cite the funding source for their various budget amendments.

“We might be able to accommodate this by pulling from the fund balance,” he said. “But we will be increasing property taxes if we go down this path.”

County Administrator Jason Taylor said a few amendments could be funded through other sources, such as bond revenue. But Taylor also agreed that dipping into reserves is unsustainable, noting that a three-mill tax increase would only generate about $450,000.

“We cannot continue to do it (dip into reserves) year after year,” he said.

In order to fund every council member’s request, “you’d have to raise taxes significantly,” Taylor added.

Some council members, however, pressed   for increased spending.

Angrily pointing his finger at the end of the meeting, Councilman Moses Bell said he was “really disappointed” a majority of council members wouldn’t support his request for $800,000 [toward a $1.5 million estimated cost] for a recreation center in his district [Ridgeway].

In the end, Council members voted 5-2 against the $800,000 appropriation, with only Mikel Trapp and Bell supporting it.

Bell claimed from the dais Monday night that the previous District 1 Council member had said the recreation center had been approved. That original approval, however, had been for $500,000, not $1.5 million.

“The constituents are the same, the district lines haven’t been moved. The only               difference is that I’m here. This was not right what was done,” Bell said. “I am disappointed, I am so disappointed. This is a disgrace to this county.”

One hot button issue not receiving a vote was a controversial proposal to allocate $35,000 for discretionary spending accounts for council members. If approved, the measure would have given each of the seven council members $5,000 to spend with no restrictions.

After significant public outcry against the discretionary spending, none of the council members brought it up for vote.

Five speakers addressed the proposal during public comments.

“At best it’s Santa Claus at taxpayers’ expense,” resident Carol Turner said. “If $35,000 worth of pipeline could be funded, the money would be much better spent that way. You are not Santa Claus, you are our elected representatives.”

Councilman Bell, who supported discretionary spending accounts, pointed to Richland County, saying council members there receive $12,000 apiece.

Jackie Workman, spoke in favor of discretionary funds.

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright noted that the Richland County discretionary accounts had come under fire following investigative reports published in The State and Charlotte Observer newspapers.

“Terms like “loose,” “no accountability,” and “chaos” reigned supreme in the story,” Bright said. “Discretionary funds didn’t work before [in Fairfield], don’t work in Richland. It’s outside the true parameters of how our government is set up.”

Final reading of the Fairfield County budget is tentatively scheduled for the May 28 meeting, which is being held on a Tuesday since Memorial Day falls on a Monday.

(NOTE: There is an error in the box at right of the story –   $25,000 for the Chamber was actually approved, not denied.)