Council finalizing $45.2M budget

Some Council Members Want $35K Discretionary Fund

WINNSBORO – Employee pay, infrastructure and vehicle replacement are some of the more costly initiatives in Fairfield County’s proposed $45.2 million budget.

But it is the comparatively smaller line items that are generating debate.

Both Councilmen Moses Bell and Mikel Trapp support allocating $35,000 for discretionary funds.

Each council member would receive $5,000, up from $2,500 that had been approved for council members under the previous (Hinely) administration. The money could be spent for any purpose, according to the proposal.

When approved previously, discretionary funds were spent on everything from recreation to meals and clothing for children, budget records show.

At a recent budget workshop, some council members spoke out against handing out discretionary funds to council members.

“Are you talking about giving each council member $2,500 so he can buy votes?” Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas said, eliciting laughter.

Councilwoman Bertha Goins said she thought discretionary funds were an invitation to abuse. She said it would be an accountability nightmare and impossible to administrate so that it’s fair to everyone requesting money.

“If I had to come out of pocket myself for drinks, water or whatever, I would do that,” Goins said. “But my main priority is getting water and sewer in Fairfield County, because that’s what we need, so count mine (discretionary appropriation) out.”

Bell, a proponent of budgeting discretionary spending accounts, noted Richland County appropriates $12,000 for each

of its council members.

He thought placing accountability on the shoulders of individual council members would mitigate potential abuse.

“In Richland County, it’s totally discretionary. It’s dependent upon the council members themselves,” he said. “The responsibility is on the council member. They (Richland County) do it very well.”

County Comptroller Laura Johnson said Fairfield County has funded discretionary accounts in the past, but accountability was lacking.

“There were no receipts,” Johnson said. “There were no established policies, we were getting to the point where it was to defray the cost of funerals and pay for recreation needs in particular districts.”

In 2014, the county implemented an application process and formed a review committee, leaving staff to approve or disapprove requests.

That led to complaints of favoritism when a request was denied or money was used for purposes other than originally requested, Johnson said.

“We made the mistake of giving them the money first and then ask them to turn in your receipts,” she said. “Then we found that after we got the receipts, it (money) wasn’t used as it was stated in the application.

“(An) application said it was for healthy eating but you went to McDonald’s or took some people out to Fatz (Café),” she said. “We’ve had applications come in and say we’re going to hand out money to students.”

The next year, council voted to discontinue discretionary funds altogether.

During Council’s retreat last month, members focused on improving the county’s image in order to attract more industrial development. One suggestion was to spend a little extra money to build a top notch commerce welcome center near the front of the industrial park that would be the face of the community and rival those in Chester, Orangeburg, Richland, York and Aiken. That could cost as much as $1.2 millon County Administrator Jason Taylor said at the retreat.

Another concern expressed at the retreat was blight in the county. An additional code enforcement officer to help reduce blight would cost $55,000.

But Councilman Moses Bell, is looking for $1.5M for a recreation center for his district (Ridgeway) which he said would serve the entire County. Bell proposed the center be built on Highway 21 outside of the Town of Ridgeway adjacent to the county’s recycling center.

The rec center and a proposed 9 percent pay increase for the Sheriff’s department, if they pass, could make the commerce welcome center and code enforcement officer financially unfeasible.

The draft budget includes a 3 percent cost of living pay increase for most full- and part-time employees. This is a reversal of the current merit-based pay increases for most county employees, though pay increases in departments under elected officials have been based on cost of living increases.

The 911 dispatchers would get a 5 percent increase, while sheriff’s department employees would see at least a 6 percent raise. Douglas wants a 9 percent increase for the sheriff’s department.

The proposed budget includes an extra $109,000 to increase sheriff’s department raises from 6 to 9 percent.

A 9 percent increase would raise the starting salary for a Fairfield County deputy from $35,000 to $38,000, said Sheriff Will Montgomery.

“This will make us competitive with other agencies and help us retain deputies as well,” Montgomery said.

“It would be cheaper than to train new officers,” Douglas said. “Let them have the money they need rather than lose our officers as soon as we get them.”

Other amendments include six school resource officer vehicles ($263,521), reinstating the vehicle replacement program ($100,000), two mini-parks requested by Trapp for his district ($100,000) and water and sewer land purchases ($400,000).

Vehicle replacement was a hot topic during the work session, with Bell questioning funding vehicles for SROs.

“I don’t know why they need new cars,” Bell said.

Councilman Douglas Pauley noted that SROs perform many other duties aside from monitoring schools.

“They not only work at the school, but also are subject to answering calls in the community,” Pauley said.

Two readings have already been given to the budget and council will vote on a list of amendments to the proposed budget Monday, May 13. After one additional workshop following the May 13 vote to give the amendments and county revenues a last look, final reading is scheduled for Tuesday, May 28. The budget takes effect July 1.


List of Unbudgeted Project Requests

 Others may be added after press time.

  • Additional Code Enforcement Officer to address county blight  – $55,000 (REMOVED)
  • Inmate Pay adjusting from $4 per day to $5 per day – $7500
  • Promise Program to help Fairfield County Residents attend Midlands Tech – $75,000
  • Economic Development Building at the Commerce Park – $1.2 million (REMOVED)
  • 911 Dispatch 5% pay increase – $16,700
  • Two Mini Parks (M. Trapp’s District) – $100,000
  • Water & Sewer Land Purchase – $400,000
  • Chamber of Commerce additional – $25,000 local A & H tax allocation
  • Christ Central Ministries Building Purchase – $55,000
  • Reinstate Council Discretionary Fund – $35,000 ($5,000 each council member)
  • Ridgeway Sports Complex / Recreation Center -$1.5 million
  • 6 % vs. 9% cost of living for Sheriff’s Dept.  – $109,000
  • SRO Officers Cars (6) – $263,521
  • Reinstate Vehicle Replacement Programs – $100,000 annually
  • Additional funding for Disabilities & Special Needs – $12,000 (difference between $43,000 and $55,000).