County rejects, then asks for meeting with town

WINNSBORO – A week after the Town of Winnsboro’s lawsuit contesting Fairfield County’s solid waste fee became public knowledge, the county wants a meeting.

On Monday night, County Councilman Mikel Trapp read a prepared statement that called upon Winnsboro to join Fairfield in forming a joint commission to “study services and areas of cooperation.”

Trapp’s request, however, comes weeks after Fairfield County dismissed a similar meeting request from the Town of Winnsboro.

In fact, County Administrator Malik Whitaker chided the town for sending that letter.

In a five-minute address at the March 28 council meeting, Whitaker suggested Winnsboro should’ve first paid the nearly $62,000 in solid waste fees the county says the town owes before reaching out.

“The Town of Winnsboro could’ve chosen to pay the fee and seek remedy as to the legality of the fee,” he said.

In responding to the town’s request, the county stated the $60 per ton solid waste fee applies to all who utilize the county’s solid waste transfer station, Whitaker added.

Whitaker then complained that Winnsboro didn’t provide an agenda, although state law would require Winnsboro to provide 24-hour notice to the public and an agenda before the meeting could be held.

“The county was not presented with an agenda for the meeting,” Whitaker said. “Therefore the county could’ve walked into the joint public meeting with legal implications without any information or research as to what the town is looking to accomplish.”

Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association, said it’s highly unusual for a public official to not receive public notice or an agenda for public meetings.

“Apparently irony is lost on this guy,” Bender said. “Without recognizing the irony of his statement, he exposed the disadvantage the public has with public bodies that don’t follow the law by providing public notice or agendas.”

On March 16, the town reached out to Fairfield County, requesting the meeting, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Voice.

“The hope of this meeting is to arrive at a mutually beneficial resolution,” the Town’s letter of invitation states.

The statement Trapp read Monday night appears to walk back Whitaker’s fiery comments from the March 28 meeting.

“The lawsuit will be defended by the county appropriately,” Trapp said. “Nevertheless, I believe it is a good time for the county and town to review our services that benefit our citizens and to determine if there is a better way to pay for such services.”

Trapp went on to make his own request for a joint meeting. Council Chairman Moses Bell asked Whitaker to look into Trapp’s proposal.

As part of Fairfield’s 2021-2022 budget, the $60 per ton fee was expanded to include the Town of Winnsboro and Fairfield County School District.

The school district has been paying the fee, but Winnsboro didn’t, prompting the county to invoice the town for about $62,000.

Winnsboro ultimately paid the bill with the caveat that the money be held in trust pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

The town contends the fee is unlawful because it taxes town residents who already pay county property taxes for solid waste services, according to the litigation.

Town officials also contend the county never included the town in developing the fee, the suit states.

In 2021, it was Trapp who made the motion to add the solid waste fee into the current budget. Councilwoman Shirley Greene seconded the motion and Bell supported the fee, according to council minutes.

Trapp’s statement also didn’t address factually incorrect comments Whitaker recently made regarding Jason Taylor, the former county administrator.

At the March 28 meeting, Whitaker erroneously claimed Taylor, now Town Manager of Winnsboro, “supported and approved this uniform user fee during his tenure as Fairfield County administrator.”

Taylor has denied that assertion. Council minutes and video of the meeting show that council members, not Taylor, pushed for the fee’s inclusion in the 2021-2022 budget.

The county has been served with the suit, but had not filed a formal response as of press time, according to Fairfield County court records.

In other business, the council voted on final reading of an ordinance to posthumously name the Fairfield County Detention Center after former Sheriff Herman Young.

Young served as county sheriff for 22 years and received the S.C. Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor.

The council also approved first reading by title only of the 2022-2023 budget.

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