Council reconsiders, passes budget

WINNSBORO – It took a little longer than expected, but Fairfield County managed to pass its 2019-2020 operating budget Monday night.

Separately, council members also approved a series of new taxes and fees largely aimed at boosting tourism related revenue.

The council voted 5-0 to approve final reading of the $45.2 million budget. Council members Douglas Pauley and Mikel Trapp were absent.

Pauley and Trapp voted against final reading at the May 28 meeting, but for vastly different reasons. The May 28 vote failed 3-3.

Pauley thought overall spending skyrocketed to unacceptable levels while Trapp wanted more spending, specifically $100,000 for mini-parks in his district.

Councilman Moses Bell, who previously sought $900,000 in additional spending for a recreation center in his district, also voted against the budget on May 28.

Bell changed his vote Monday night so Fairfield County could move forward with an operating budget.

“I felt that the recreation center in Ridgeway should’ve been part of the budget process. I felt very strongly about that,” Bell said. “But again, we need to pass this budget. We really do for the betterment of this county.

“But as I said earlier, I am very disappointed that we couldn’t move forward with the recreation center,” Bell continued.

Monday night’s budget vote was set up by a motion to reconsider the council’s 3-3 vote on May 28, allowing the council to avoid restarting the budget voting process from scratch, said county attorney Tommy Morgan.

“A motion to reconsider is an opportunity for the body, such as county council, to bring back an item for reconsideration no later than the very next meeting,” Morgan said. “What happens is the prevailing party, the party that voted against the budget, is the person that could move to reconsider.”

Later in the meeting, Council Chairman Neil Robinson said the budget represents a start in helping Fairfield County address infrastructure needs, some of which he said are 15-20 years behind.

“We are on a good track. Sometimes we argue and fuss, but we get things done,” Robinson said. “No, it’s not what we wanted, but it [the budget] is OK with me. Things are going to happen.”

In related fiscal matters, the council approved final reading on ordinances to establish a 3 percent tourism development fee and 2 percent hospitality tax.

The council had previously considered the measures in March, but backed off after several residents voiced concerns about the tax, how it would be implemented and whether it would drive away tourism instead of enhancing it.

Council members revisited the new fees after soliciting feedback from county residents.

“We did take a lot of comments from the public and these changes are in response to comments from the public,” County Administrator Jason Taylor said.

Most of those changes involved spelling out exactly how the taxes and fees would be collected and spent.

The tourism development fee would be collected on the “rental of hotels, motels, and other lodging establishments” in the county. Money can be spent on tourism-related buildings (such as civic centers, coliseums and aquariums); tourism-related cultural, recreational, or historic facilities; beach access, renourishment, or other tourism-related lands and water access; highways, roads, streets, and bridges providing access to tourist destinations; advertisements and promotions related to tourism development, or water and sewer infrastructure to serve tourism related demand.

The hospitality tax would be collected on prepared meals and beverages, and could be spent on various tourism-related capital projects, according to council documents.

Morgan, the county attorney, said an exception would exist for the Town of Ridgeway, which has its own tourism and hospitality taxes. Those taxes would be divided evenly between the town and county.