Despite tight budget, Trapp requests $20K for a council newsletter

WINNSBORO – It was a week’s worth of fireworks as Fairfield County Council crept closer to adopting a proposed $44.6 million budget.

On Monday night, the council approved the spending plan by a 5-2 vote. Council members Clarence Gilbert and Doug Pauley voted in opposition.

Third reading could come as early as the council’s next meeting in May.

Pauley, in particular, didn’t mince words, saying he thinks the budget prioritizes the personal interests of some council members at the expense of employees and taxpayers.

“This budget is misguided in terms of where it places our priorities,” Pauley said. “This budget asks our employees to bear cuts in their departments, therefore reducing services to our citizens.”

Specifically, Pauley took issue with Councilman Mikel Trapp asking for $20,000 to be put in the new budget for a county council newsletter. There was no breakdown of how the $20,000 would be spent. Pauley asserted that, “the four council members behind me [Moses Bell, Shirley Greene, Tim Roseborough and Mikel Trapp] will completely craft and control the contents of [it].”

Pauley also lamented the council’s vote to attend the S.C. Association of Counties annual conference this summer.

Councilwoman Shirley Greene defended the Hilton Head trip, accusing Pauley of “grandstanding” and being “divisive.” She said the trip to the four-star Oceanside resort is necessary for professional development.

“Ms. Greene, are you aware you have voted to take a luxury trip?” Pauley pressed.

“I have not voted to take a luxury trip,” Greene responded. “I need to go someplace because I’ve not had training at all for this council.”

The SCAC announced on its website, however, that it will not be necessary to travel to the conference to take advantage of the training. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SCAC will host a hybrid format for the Annual Conference and Institute of Government course offerings this year.

The conference workshops and general session will be streamed live for those who choose not to attend in-person. The post stated that the Institute of Government classes will be available on demand shortly after the conference.

The fiery exchange between Pauley and Greene was reminiscent of last week’s budget meeting, when Councilman Gilbert accused other council members of trying to sabotage his negotiations with Fairfield Memorial Hospital.

Gilbert has been working privately to strike a deal with the hospital board to partially repay old debts, which could help address the county’s budget crunch, potentially generating up to $750,000 in revenue.

“We have council members going behind us, in my opinion, trying to sabotage our negotiations,” he said. “Please let us work on it and not try to intervene and cause problems.”

Gilbert didn’t mention the council member by name, though Council Chairman Moses Bell promptly responded to the accusation.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about but I did have a call from a (hospital) board member,” Bell said.

In its current form, the budget relies on withdrawing $3.5 million from the fund balance to help offset lost tax revenue from the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.

As of last week, the county’s fund balance stood at about $19 million, said County Administrator Jason Taylor. That number, he said, fluctuates throughout the year.

In voting for second reading on the budget, the five members voting in favor committed to dipping into reserves despite Bell frequently voicing criticism of the practice. 

County staff had recommended increasing millage by five mills, which would have added about $20 in taxes per $100,000 in residential property. A mill is worth about $4 per $100,000 in property.

The increase would have cut the amount withdrawn from reserves to only about $631,000. Council members, however, unanimously shot down the tax hike.

Another option called for a modest increase of 2.24 mills to match an increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a cost of living indicator. But council members voted unanimously against that as well.

The council also voted 4-3 to reject a one-mill increase to fund library operations, which has its own dedicated millage, separate from county operations. Council members Pauley, Gilbert and Robinson dissented.

While the budget doesn’t increase taxes, it has plenty of cuts.

The council trimmed recycling center operations to five days. Several departments also saw temporary employees defunded.

The four-council-member bloc also voted to slash the vehicle allowance for top employees. Gilbert voiced concerns, especially relating to economic development, where he said first impressions matter.

“If we have our county economic development guy in an old car with new businesses visiting, it’s a bad look. Appearances mean a lot,” he said.

Regardless, the council voted 4-3 against the vehicle allowance.

Trapp, who has long opposed the funding of the Farmer’s Market, placed its completion on the chopping block. He proposed putting the market’s alley paving project, the building’s sprinkler system and the kitchen on the motions list. Those cuts amounted to about $210,000, Trapp said.

Earlier in the meeting, the council heard from Thomas Armstrong, a Fairfield County resident often critical of council actions. He again brought up council’s passing of the $24,000,000 bond in 2013, and the burden the bond placed on the county’s finances. Trapp, however, is the only current council member who was on council when the bond was passed, and he voted to pass it.

Armstrong thought the budget lacked transparency, and he also questioned several spending decisions. He called for the county to conduct an audit.

Trapp later agreed.

“I think that is worth looking into,” Trapp said.

Comments

  1. Lori Kurtz says

    20,000 for a council newsletter? Too much money. Just put it in the newspaper.
    Trip every year to a 4 star resort is another huge waste of taxpayers money. Save and just do virtual, zoom type training.
    A new car is not needed, first impressions do NOT matter. It would be better if other counties saw one saving money and keep vehicles in good working order, therefor saving the constituents dollars in the long run. This county has always had a history of wasting money.

  2. Peter Gainey says

    A good first impression goes a long way. But a reasonable vehicle. An audit is must as is transparency with citizens dollars. A $20,000 slush fund? Really? I respect a healthy, productive debate as long as it is productive. Each side must validate their opinions with fact.

  3. Marcus Polk says

    The Gang of Four is at it again. 20K for a newsletter? What would be in it – the “accomplishments” of the Gang of Four? Ms. Greene, you ran on “Transparency”, did you not? Why not save the County’s money and take virtual training. If it’s good enough for the school children, it is certainly good enough for a Councilwoman.

  4. Liz Bankhead says

    Why doesn’t he fund it with the money he got for his education and never paid back?

  5. Jeff Greenlaw says

    “I need to go someplace because I’ve not had training at all for this council.” Well, councilwoman Greene, you introduced yourself in campaign fashion to me and my wife on election day outside our polling place. The fact you had no training or experience was not your “vote for me pitch”. Suddenly, now that training is taxpayer funded and at a resort location, you decide to use your inexperience as an excuse for taxpayer funded luxury hotels and fine dining? I don’t think so. If you feel you’re not capable of serving on the council because of your lack of knowledge and inexperience you should have never decided to run for the office or, you should have been truthful with the residents on election day and told them that a vote for you was a vote for someone that had no clue what they were doing. Of course, you could simply resign at no cost to county residents and we could fill your position with someone who does know what they are doing.

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