Bright: New raises, hires are Bell’s ‘Election Miracle’

WINNSBORO – When Fairfield County approved the current budget this past spring, Fairfield County administration determined there wasn’t enough money for employee raises or additional hires to help alleviate severe staff shortages.

Instead, county administration initiated 10 percent cuts in the budgets for all departments, resulting in the loss of many county employees who went elsewhere for better pay. The county’s austerity program also left the county’s public safety departments understaffed.

In the ensuing months, Councilmen Douglas Pauley and Clarence Gilbert repeatedly called on Council Chairman Moses Bell to raise salaries, adequately staff departments and sufficiently fund the public safety departments.

Now, even though no large sums of revenue have come into the county’s coffers since April, Bell’s agenda Monday night called for the appropriation of close to $1 million from the general fund for employee raises, bonuses and new hires.

The timing and motivation for providing these raises and new hires so close to the November elections raised questions and eyebrows.

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright directly questioned the timing of approving raises now, as opposed to during the budget process when it could have prevented the exodus of many good employees.

“It’s an Election Miracle,” Bright said during public comment time. “We’ve finally shaken the trees, we’ve finally found the money to take care of the employees,” Bright said.

On Monday night, Council members voted in favor of spending nearly $487,000 from the general fund on employee raises. In addition, the council voted to spend another $363,000 to supplement costs of building a fire station on River Road.

Council also voted to provide an additional $100,000 to the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office for raises, and $20,000 for incentive bonuses for qualifying volunteer firefighters. 

Bell did not say if he and his wife, who are volunteer firefighters, would receive any of the incentive bonuses.

In a separate vote, council members approved first reading of an ordinance to create three detention center officer positions and increase bonuses for all detention center officers from $1,000 to $1,500. That vote passed unanimously. The detention center has been understaffed by 13 officers in recent months.

Bell later said the county found sufficient funds for raises after performing a “full scale analysis,” but didn’t specify how that analysis generated over $880,000 for raises and a fire station.

“It [employee pay] isn’t being addressed for political reasons,” Bell countered. “It was addressed because we did an analysis based on budgets, based on needs and everything that’s going on.”

If approved, all county employees would receive raises of 2%, 3%, or 4%, according to the draft ordinance.

A breakdown of how raises would be distributed was not stated in council documents. Bell did say raises would be based on salary, with employees earning $40,000 or less receiving 4% raises.

The salary increase and fire station votes passed unanimously. Two more readings are required on each measure since they are by ordinance.

$400K More for RW Center

Council members also approved, in a 4 – 2 vote, a resolution calling for the transfer of $400,000 of the Dominion settlement money from the mega site grading project to the construction of the Ridgeway Community Center, a pet project of Bell’s for his district that has already been funded with $2.5M in Dominion settlement money. The recreation center is to be located next to the Ridgeway recycle center on U.S. Highway 21 near Blythewood.

Council members Doug Pauley and Clarence Gilbert voted against the $400,000 for the Ridgeway Community Center funding. Councilman Neil Robinson was absent.

Gilbert’s opposition teed up a fiery exchange with Council Chairman Moses Bell, who has vigorously lobbied for a multi-million dollar rec center in his home district.

Gilbert initially asked Bell about DHEC permitting and procurement for Ridgeway rec center site. Bell grew defensive when Gilbert asked for the bids and the names of project bidders.

“We know there are people going behind the administrator asking different kinds of questions,” Bell said. “We’ll give you the information, but please stay within the confines of what’s normal practices for this council.”

“I always do,” Gilbert replied.

Normally, county bids are public information as soon as they are opened, and then go to Council for a public vote for approval. So far, Gilbert and Pauley say they have not had any access to the four Ridgeway rec center bids.

Gilbert also asked whether the $400,000 Dominion money would be better spent on public safety or the wastewater treatment plant to benefit the whole county rather than just the rec center, prompting Bell to grow more defensive.

“Why is it that you don’t believe the people of Ridgeway should have opportunities as other people in the county?” Bell said, raising his voice.

“My question only needed a yes or no answer,” Gilbert responded.

Bell then insisted it was Gilbert, not himself, who was making the discussion political.

“You said something for political reasons when we’re trying to help out our Fairfield County people,” Bell said.

Comments

  1. Jeff Schaffer says

    Bell has not an ounce of integrity in his actions or comments.
    Who in their right mind takes a million dollars and builds another MLK monument?
    Would not that million dollars have been better spent on firemen and police protection even EMS for new hires and bonus offerings?
    We have got to get rid of Bell and Trapp these 2 are just a detriment to public health and safety.
    Jeff Schaffer
    Lake Monticello

    • brian drawdy says

      EMS being short staffed is not a new issue. It’s been a chronic one for many many years. Not every county ems service is experiencing such staffing issues. Fairfield pays well above what most neighboring counties as well as those comparable in population and call volumes. It’s a morale issue, management issues as well as many other I won’t divulge publicly that have been plaguing Fairfield for quite some time. The citizens as well as the few decent employees that have stuck it out deserve so much better than what is being provided. Fairfield HR has been made aware of such issues and have failed to do anything about it for whatever reason.

  2. Mike Bell says

    WoW!
    I wish I could just find a million dollar in the corner, under my bed, in an old box in the garage or beside the toilet where we all go! These people are full of crap! You just know find money when you have accountants and budgets. They are liars about everything they do and say.

    Please vote them out on November 8, 2022!

    Bell and Trapp must be voted OUT!!!!!!

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