County approves $46.4M budget

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County moved forward with final reading of its $46.4 million budget, but not without drama.

On June 9, council members voted 4-3 to approve the budget that does not include an increase in the base millage rate, but does dig into the county’s cash reserves.

Council members Bertha Goins, Clarence Gilbert, Jimmy Ray Douglas and Chairman Neil Robinson voted to approve. Moses Bell, Mikel Trapp and Douglas Pauley opposed.

Trapp didn’t comment on why he opposed the budget, but Bell and Pauley gave differing reasons for dissenting.

Both Bell and Pauley expressed reservations that the budget increases spending, but it’s the exclusion of a $400K community center he wants in his district (Ridgeway) that Bell bemoaned.

Bell also took issue with cutting outside agency funding by 10 percent, adding more police cars, giving the economic development director a car allowance, raising deputy coroner pay and $40,000 in extra funding for the Drawdy Park parking lot paving project, but continued to criticize council’s failure to spend $400K on the community center.

Bell went on to read a prepared statement in which he invoked Mahatma Gandhi and former President Barack Obama, and blasted The Voice for reporting that he had pitched a fit at the last budget meeting.

“Something is extremely wrong with this budget,” Bell began, prompting Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas to interject.

“How many times are you going to go over this?” Douglas asked.

Unfazed, Bell continued, alluding to racial disparities he said exist in Fairfield County.

Pauley objected to the budget on more philosophical grounds, saying it relies too much on using the fund balance to offset increased spending.

“This budget would be like taking 20 percent of your life savings to spend more than you did last year for no reason except that you want to,” Pauley said. “Sooner or later, if you keep this up you’re going to run out of money.”

A review of the FY 2020-21 budget reveals only a 2-1/2 percent increase in this year’s budget over last year’s budget.

Taylor said the county’s budget is higher compared to other similarly sized counties because of the Jenkinsville nuclear plant, which generates more tax revenue.

However, the plant is expected to generate less revenue in the coming budget year, which Taylor said is negatively impacting both the county and school district budgets.

“We also have to suffer with the fluctuations of what goes on out there,” Taylor said. “When they sneeze, we get a cold.”

In this year’s budget, the county is pulling $5 million from the fund balance, up from roughly $3 million in previous years.

Taylor said the difference is largely due to $1.8 million the county is spending on land purchases to support industry. Another $100,000 has been added to help cover anticipated legal costs.

Taylor said the key to reversing the county’s budget issues lies in attracting new industry and investing in infrastructure needed to support that industry.

“You can’t tax your way to prosperity nor can you cut your way to prosperity. What we have to do is grow our way to prosperity,” he said. “It’s not something where we’re squandering money; it’s an investment. Without a sewer plant, we’re really dead in the water with economic development.”

Councilwoman Bertha Goins agreed. Underfunding infrastructure would hurt the rural areas much more, she said.

“If you don’t have it in place, you get passed over,” Goins said. “We will be sitting in the dark while counties around us prosper, grow and increase.”