Swearingen: County’s finances in a bad spot

WINNSBORO – In addition to bad news about the county’s audit during Monday night’s county council meeting, council members received disappointing and conflicting news about the county’s fund balance.

In December, the previous council leadership claimed Fairfield had been regularly depositing money into the fund balance since mid-summer and that the finances were in good shape when, in reality, the unrestricted balance plunged by more than $7 million during that time.

Budget records presented Monday night show unrestricted funds tumbled from $5.9 million on June 30, 2022, to a balance of negative $1.1 million by Dec. 31, 2022.

One of the last expenditures the previous council majority approved was $1.2 million in December 2022, mostly for employee bonuses. Otherwise, the unrestricted fund balance would have finished 2022 slightly in the black.

When Councilwoman Shirley Greene asked former council chair Bell in a mid-December council meeting where the $1.2 million for employee bonuses was coming from, Whitaker, the former administrator, couldn’t provide the financials.

“We can get you the exact numbers. We have been working on getting that,” Whitaker said. “We can get you the details on exactly what that looks like.” But nothing was forthcoming.

Bell then falsely claimed there was sufficient fund balance money to cover the bonuses.

“Our fund balance from June 30, instead of taking money out, we were able to put money into it,” Bell said. “We’ve been able to use grants and other government funding to help us along. That enabled us to spend that money versus revenues from the county.”

Anne Bass, the county’s finance director, said Monday that a lull in property tax revenues also contributed to the rapid decline of fund balance money.

“This would be the rock bottom point for the county,” Bass said, adding that property tax revenues traditionally rebound in January.

Councilwoman Peggy Swearingen was unsettled by the fund balance news.      

“We were over $1 million in the hole?” Swearingen asked.

“What that number really represents is that, at that point in time, we had dipped into [our restricted funds],” Bass replied.

“So this wasn’t really good, is that what you’re saying?” Swearingen asked.

“No ma’am, it’s not [good],” Bass replied.

“So we started off in a really bad spot to start off January,” Swearingen said.

“We started off kind of tight, yes,” Bass said.

The arrival of a little more than $14 million in Dominion tax revenue has since helped replenish the unrestricted fund balance, which stood at $11,882,569 as of January 22, 2023, budget records show. Much of that, however, is obligated.


  1. Calvin Kennedy says

    Without hesitation, the current council should arrange an independent legal council & audit of all past funds allocations & expenditures & take appropriate actions with ANY wrongdoing!!!

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