Bell: Proposed dept needs are $10M over budget

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County Council approved a lease agreement to operate a recreation site despite a majority of members not knowing the full cost or addressing low demand for recreation.

On Monday night, the council voted 5-2 for the lease agreement with Dominion Energy. Council members Doug Pauley and Clarence Gilbert opposed.

Pauley

Pauley said the county’s existing parks, which he said cost $97,000 a year just for utilities, not including staff, maintenance and other costs, are not frequently used. Investing in a new recreation site makes even less sense given that its full costs aren’t known, he said.

Some council members have objected to the council’s recent binging on public recreation spending, citing waning demand and hidden costs.

“Here we are again not listening to employees or taxpaying citizens on what is important in Fairfield County,” he said.

The recreation site consists of 8.12 acres in the North Monticello and Ladd Road area.

It’s part of a deal with Dominion Energy. And while the county didn’t spend any money to acquire the land, Fairfield must obtain multiple insurance policies on the property with at least $3 million in coverage.

The county is also responsible for costs associated with adding any playground equipment, other amenities, utilities and personnel to manage it. It’s not clear how much those amenities, insurance, costs to operate and personnel would ultimately cost, nor is it known how the county would pay for them.

Pauley noted that “just on Friday, an email was sent out asking department heads to reconsider their proposed budgets for next year because we [the county] are $10 million over budget. So we are asking all these departments to make cuts that they really need to run their departments and provide quality services to the tax payers.”

He added that lack of staffing has forced temporary shutdowns of county EMS substations, a situation he said was more important than adding more recreation sites.

“We are asking the life-saving departments to cut their budgets while needing officers, paramedics, firefighters, ambulances, patrol cars, and fire trucks,” Pauley said.

Council Chairman Moses Bell stated, without providing specific examples, that Fairfield County has been wasting money.

Bell also said the fund balance is “depleted for all purposes,” though it’s unclear whether he meant it was depleted from previous levels or completely depleted.

“People can say what they want, but they spend the money,” Bell said, not specifying who “they” includes. “You can’t spend more money than you have. People can say stuff, and make up stuff, and create stuff, but those are the facts.”

Pauley asked Bell directly how much the county would have to spend on infrastructure and insurance for the recreation site.

“Didn’t you say what it’s going to cost?” Bell answered.

“Nobody asked me what it’s going to cost,” Pauley said.

“OK, but anyway…” Bell began as Pauley continued his questioning.

“Have we done a study to find out how much they [insurance polices] are going to cost?” Pauley asked. “It seems like that would be the first thing we would do before we lease the property.”

Bell ignored the question and called for the vote.

Fairfield’s continued recreation spending comes as the county continues to grapple with fallout over failing to file its annual audit on time with the state. Fairfield’s tardiness prompted the S.C. Comptroller General’s Office to withhold payments totaling at least $1.5 million as of Tuesday, March 29.

On Monday night, Fairfield County Administrator Malik Whitaker told council members that the accounting firm Elliott Davis is close to completing the audit.

Whitaker said Elliott Davis estimates the audit should be done by March 31. Council hopes to review the audit sometime during the week of April 4.

Comments

  1. Bell and his cronies need to be removed. Amendments need to be added such that every council member has to have a basic understanding of money.

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