Fairfield council majority caves to request to give $4k to first responders

Following the council meeting, first responders lined up to shake hands and thank Fairfield councilmen Neil Robinson, right, Doug Pauley and Clarence Gilbert (at end of table) for the $4000 they will receive from the American Rescue Plan. | Photos: Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County first responders are getting bigger bonuses from the American Rescue Plan after all.

On Monday night, Fairfield County Council voted 7-0 to increase full time first responder bonuses from $1,200 to $4,000.

But the unanimous vote doesn’t reflect the deep divisions among council members leading up to Monday night’s final reading.

A coalition consisting of Council Chairman Moses Bell and council members Mikel Trapp, Tim Roseborough and Shirley Greene initially voted to give only $1,200 bonuses to first responders, the same amount as other full-time employees, regardless of the much higher risk first responders faced during the pandemic.

Even more egregious to some critics was that the ordinance also qualified council members as being eligible for the $1,200 bonuses, a bone of contention with the first responders as well as Councilmen Douglas Pauley and Clarence Gilbert.

On Monday, Trapp introduced an amendment withdrawing the council bonuses and redirecting the money to the Fairfield County Library.

This triggered criticism from Pauley, who said the library money was inserted at the last minute without the knowledge of the minority three of council.

Pauley then introduced an amended motion to increase first responder bonuses to $4,000 while chastising the majority 4 council members previously voting to accept bonuses.

“It amazes me that some of us can sit up here and say that coming into a council meeting was putting their life on the line,” he said.

The amended motion passed by a 4-3 margin, with Bell, Trapp and Roseborough opposing. Greene wound up becoming the swing vote on the amended motion. She said she changed her mind after hearing from voters in her district.

“I can understand how difficult it is to do the job that you [first responders] do,” Greene said. “I know that so many things have happened to you here in the audience. There’s nothing that’s more important than what you provide.”

Still, Monday’s vote almost didn’t happen.

Later, Bell tried to postpone the vote on bonuses, saying he thought the council should form a committee to study the issue. His idea never gained traction.

Then Bell suggested the council temporarily table the vote so staff could provide a cost estimate.

“I think we should recognize all county employees. The current proposal – $1,200 for all full time employees – does exactly that,” Bell insisted.

In the end, staff was able to provide cost estimates later in the meeting, setting up the final vote.

How much it costs

Funding for the bonuses comes from the first of two $2.2 million installments Fairfield County is receiving from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

Initially, the ordinance only appropriated about $1.57 million of the first $2.2 million installment, which included $460,000 for across the board bonuses of $1,200 for full-time employees, $600 for part-time employees and $200 for volunteers including poll workers.

Bell, who is a volunteer fireman, wanted to know how much the volunteer firemen would be paid. The bonus for volunteer firemen was raised from $200 to $600.

Increasing individual bonuses to $4,000 for essential workers cost an extra $595,000, leaving a balance of about $11,521 from the first installment, said Anne Bass, the county’s finance director.

The second $2.2 million installment is expected at a future date.

Those qualifying for $4,000 bonuses include “safety sensitive” staff from the following departments: Sheriff’s Office, EMS, Detention Center, Fire Department, Solid Waste, Public Works, Animal Control, Building Maintenance, Coroner’s Office and Emergency Management.

The ordinance still appropriates $500,000 for two mini-parks and playground upgrades in Councilman Trapp’s district, an issue that first responders sometimes jeered at from the audience.

It also earmarks payouts for the following:

  • $8,000 for a Community in Schools program
  • $500,000 to repair a DHHS building roof
  • $75,000 for a project manager position in Economic Development
  • $30,000 to repair a fire truck engine

Blame game

Prior to Monday’s vote, the majority 4 council members thought equal bonuses of $1,200 was the fairest way to distribute them. Chairman Bell also shifted the blame to previous administrations, claiming it was they who had deferred action on first responder bonuses.

“During the last meeting, I referenced the missed opportunity to provide bonus hazard pay to first responders,” Bell said. “As you know, I wasn’t the chairman (in 2010), and was on the frequent side of a 5-2 vote.”

First responders, however, resoundingly rejected Bell’s argument of whataboutism.

Ten speakers representing a cross section of essential workers used the public input segment to advocate for higher bonuses.

Brad Douglas, director of Fairfield County Emergency Management, said first responders deserve higher bonuses because they risked their lives every day during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“These employees don’t care about who voted for what two years ago or even two days ago,” Douglas said. “Politics should never be a factor in what we do for the good of our citizens.”

Officer Sheniqua Cook with the county detention center said she was one of two officers to contract Covid-19. She suffered pneumonia and blood clots in her lungs, and required hospitalization.

“I lost all of my vacation time and sick time,” she said. “I received no money from [the pandemic].”

Paramedic Mike Tanner said neglecting first responders would be devastating for morale. He said that since the pandemic hit, calls have increased 20 percent while staffing has fallen 26 percent.

“There’s a massive shortage of paramedics in the state,” Tanner said. “All my employees and all my potential employees are scrutinizing this decision tonight.”

First responders filled the council chambers. Ten of those attending spoke during public session.

Comments

  1. Jeff Schaffer says

    I hope that your readers already have a good understanding of the deep disaster we have in the 4 rubber stampers for Bell. These people are strictly in it for themselves. Tim Roseboro never says a peep but he’s got his hand out like the rest of them. I know the first responders all of them aren’t voting for any of the 4 who slapped their face twice.
    Jeff Schaffer

    • TiredinFairfield says

      Posted by a guy who currently has a pending lawsuit against Fairfield County (2017-CP-20000-47) accusing the Counties EMS and First Responeders that he is now championing of gross incompetence and ineptitude. One of his cause of actions is that he “suffered extreme pain and suffering due to EMS choosing a very bumpy route for transporting Plaintiff.” The whole suit makes for some great comic relief and can be accessed at SCCourts.org. Apparently the only thing larger than his ego is his hypocrisy. If he was truly for the First Responders he would immediately drop his lawsuit. I don’t think anyone should hold their breath…

  2. K Reynolds says

    Now that this issue is resolved what is the action plan for the sewer system to the Broad River?

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