County Council votes 4-2 to triple new spending ordinance

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County residents and at least one council member fear the current council majority is recklessly draining the county’s coffers before two members leave office.

On Monday night, several residents spoke out against an amendment proposed by Bell Monday night that crams $922,000 in new spending into an ordinance originally designed to appropriate $286,000 of hospitality tax funds for tourism related purposes. 

The amended ordinance passed 4-2 with council members Doug Pauley and Clarence Gilbert opposing.

Council members also added a special council meeting for December 19 that wasn’t on the calendar, ostensibly so the amended spending measure receives a final vote before Council Chairman Moses Bell and Councilman Mikel Trapp leave office. Both lost re-election bids in November.

“Somebody’s trying to slip something in there,” resident John Jones said during public comments. “That’s exactly what it looks like. Historically, certain members on this particular council are notorious for doing just that.”

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright said the amendment is another example of council members spending large amounts of money after declaring the county was functioning on a shoestring budget. He called upon council to cancel the Dec. 19 meeting.

“This ordinance embodies why we should not have another meeting from this group,” Bright said. “What are we thinking? This is insane. Good grief. No more, please. Cancel that meeting next week and follow the will of the people, please.”

Originally, the ordinance called for distributing $286,000 in hospitality tax funds to the following: S.C. Railroad Museum ($111,000), capital improvements to the Teacherage museum at the County Administration Building ($100,000), and to establish a Cultural Memorial Wall on the site of the Historic Martin Blue Moon Property in Jenkinsville ($75,000).

Unlike the original ordinance, the amendment doesn’t itemize how the additional $922,000 is spent. It merely states the money is a “one-time Employee Retention Incentive Payment,” which includes the following:

A $1,500 bonus for all full-time employees and volunteer firefighters with 20 accrued points.

A $750 bonus for part-time employees, as-needed employees, and volunteer firefighters with fewer than 20 accrued points.

All employees actively employed as of third reading would receive bonuses after Dec. 31, 2022. Council members are ineligible for bonus payments.

As written, the amendment theoretically allows employees hired anytime before Dec. 31 to receive bonuses, even if they work only a few days for the county,” Councilman Pauley said.

“So somebody could be hired today, work two weeks, get a $1,500 bonus, and quit the next day?” Pauley said.

County Administrator Malik Whitaker dismissed that as unlikely, but also acknowledged it could happen.

“You would hope that our HR process would do better than somebody getting hired and quitting the next day,” Whitaker said. HR, however, would not be responsible for working out the details of distribution of the bonus money.

Pauley said the $922,000 in bonuses should’ve been handled as a supplemental appropriations request and receive three readings instead of as a rider to an ordinance that has already received first reading.

Later, Pauley reminded council members that back in April, the county couldn’t afford bonuses and departments were asked to slash their budgets by 10%. He also chided Chairman Bell, who as a volunteer firefighter could be eligible for the $1,500 bonus for volunteer firemen.

“Mr. Gilbert and I have stated many times that we need to take care of our employees and first responders. If we have [$922,000] that we can use for employees, why not do a cost of living [increase] for the next couple of years or pay more toward their insurance premiums?” Pauley said.

Instead of addressing Pauley’s comments or discussing the bonuses, Bell spent most of this time during the Council Comments portion of the meeting attacking The Voice for what he perceived as wrong-doing.

Bell also rebuked previous county and Town of Winnsboro administrations and others while also touting what he called his own accomplishments working with state leaders.

Pauley reminded Bell that on Nov. 8, the citizens of District 1 and 3 spoke that they were not in favor of their council members’ decisions for the last two years.

“And here you are again, with no plan and rushing this through at the end of the year.

“I say to the citizens in Districts 1 and 3… thank you,” Pauley said.

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