Fairfield County Council OKs $49.3M budget, 8 mill tax increase

WINNSBORO – In an 11th hour effort on June 29, Fairfield County Council voted 4-3 to pass the final reading of the county’s fiscal year 2023-24 budget before the state-mandated June 30 deadline. The $49.3 million budget council approved is an increase by 21 percent over the 2021-22 budget that was passed two years ago.

Council members Shirley Green, Tim Roseborough, and Neil Robinson voted against passing the budget.

Reading from a prepared statement prior to the vote, County Council Chairman Douglas Pauley announced that Fairfield residents will see higher tax bills in the coming fiscal year.  

“This has been a very difficult decision,” he read. “I’ve been on council for six years and never voted on a tax increase before, but I do think it’s the right thing to do for the future of Fairfield County. Council and administration have studied the budget and had multiple work sessions to prevent a tax increase. I feel that without this tax increase there would be a big impact on the operations of the county,” Pauley read.

Millage Vote Delayed

While the county’s website reflects an 8 mill increase from the 2022-23 millage rate of 182.3 mills to 190.3 mills in fiscal year 2023-24, and there has been council discussion about an 8 mill increase, the resolution for the 8 mills has not been published or voted on.

Asked last week about the delayed vote for the millage rate, Interim Administrator Laura Johnson emailed this comment:

“Council voted on the 8 mill tax increase when they approved the second and third reading of the budget. Council will later approve a millage resolution, which will update the millage rates.”

Administration has stated that an 8 mill increase would translate into an increase of $32 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home, or $64 for the owner of a $200,000 home. It’s the first property tax increase for the county in at least eight years.

During the public hearing on the budget held prior to the vote, some Fairfield residents lined up to speak in opposition to the proposed budget.

Fairfield resident Don Goldblock said he wasn’t fully convinced the current council inherited present budget difficulties from the previous council.

“I think there are only two council members who are newly elected to this council. That means a majority of the council was here when this situation was created or not fixed,” Goldblock said. “What I’d like to hear next is that you’ll commit to fixing our financial reporting and accounting situation.”

Bright Cites Waste

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright said the budget is fraught with waste. He specifically called out a $128,000 earmark to Midlands Technical College, which he says only has a handful of students taking classes at the Winnsboro campus.

“It’s unconscionable to expose Midlands Tech for not earning their dollars for us and still giving them $128,000,” Bright said.

He also cited big salary increases for the county government’s top echelon employees

“It’s unconscionable to put [tax] burden on the people and while increasing salaries and benefits for the top administration positions by nearly $450,000,” he said.

Councilwoman Peggy Swearingen defended administration, specifically praising the efforts of Laura Johnson, the county’s interim administrator, who Swearingen said was very deserving of the $12,500 per month salary council is paying Johnson.

Included in the budget is a 5% cost of living increase for employees making $60,000 or less. Employees making $60,001 or more will receive a 3% boost, according to budget documents.

Road Maintenance Fee

In related financial matters, council members approved final reading of a revised road maintenance fee ordinance. That vote passed 7-0.

The vote makes the road maintenance fund a permanent part of future budgets and sets a $10 fee for all vehicles.

Previously, the fee was $5 per residential vehicle and $10 per commercial vehicle, and was approved annually, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance also creates a Road Maintenance Fund into which all road maintenance fees collections will be deposited.

Residents also spoke out against the road maintenance fee ordinance.

Bright said the measure hurts rural residents already stung by separate efforts to remove dirt roads from county maintenance.

“Those people who will no longer have their shared driveway roads maintained, they’ll still have to pay the fee,” Bright said. “That’s not a funny irony, it’s the sad irony.”

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