Fairfield County Council to raise taxes, borrow $3.5M, spend $100K more on RW rec center

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County Council is one vote away from enacting a tax increase – two months after approving the county’s annual budget.

In a 5-2 vote, council members voted to approve an eight-mill increase, increasing the tax rate from 182.3 to 190.3 mills. Council members Shirley Greene and Tim Roseborough voted in opposition.

The extra eight mills are dedicated to the general fund, which jumps from 161.5 to 169.5 mills, according to budget records.

Taxes will go up $32 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home or $64 for the owner of a $200,000 home. The tax hike is retroactive, meaning it applies to the entire 2023-2024 fiscal budget adopted in July.

Frustrated Fairfield taxpayers came to the podium Monday night to lament everything from the millage vote occurring two months after the budget’s passage to the ongoing farmer’s market issue.

John Jones, a frequent council critic, said during public comments that Fairfield is not being transparent in fiscal matters.

As Jones began to speak, there was a hot mic moment when a councilman who murmured, “Here we go.”

Jones said this council has a poor track record of being good stewards of taxpayer money. He called for transparency and meticulous accounting for how money is spent, likening it to ordinary citizens balancing their checkbooks.

“You want Fairfield citizens to fork over more in taxes, and we demand the same accounting,” he said.

Consternation over the millage increase segued into continued commentary from several speakers concerning the Fairfield Farmers and Artisans Market, which the county is billing $25 per hour for using the farmer’s market building in town.

“Shenanigans, let me tell you,” said Fairfield resident Valerie Clowney. “Do you have personal vendettas that your pride won’t allow you to do the right thing for the people?”

There’s still plenty of angst over a large per hour rental fee the council imposed on nonprofits using the market building, though only the farmer’s market ever used the space. A $50 an hour fee had been enforced by the county until an outcry from the public pushed council to reduce the price to $25 an hour at the prior council meeting.

Clowney and others asked that the excess from the higher $50 fee they had to pay from April until Aug. 1, be credited to future $25 per hour payments, but that request didn’t gain any traction with Council Chairman Douglas Pauley, who refused to give them future credit for the $25 per hour overage they paid for four months.

“I find it ironic and disturbing that the council is going to vote to retroactively tax its citizens all the while denying the farmers market their request to credit the extra $25 per hour rent they have been overcharged for all season to cover the rest of the season,” Clowney said.

Councilman Dan Ruff tried to add an agenda item that would accomplish that, but his motion died due to a lack of a second from any of the members on council.

“I grew up farming, my dad was a farmer. This farmers market is such an asset to Winnsboro and this county. It brings in tourism from all over the place,” Ruff said. “For these people to work so hard with so little money, I wish we could support them more.”

In other business, Fairfield leaders reported the county has sufficient funds to cover more than $100,000 in added expenses tied to two change orders at the Ridgeway Recreation Center.

Deputy Administrator Synithia Williams said one change order involves installing a floor in the center’s gym, and the other is for a privacy fence.

In September 2022, the council transferred $400,000 of the Dominion settlement money designated for economic development to the $2.5 million recreation center project. Williams said there’s sufficient money from that $400,000 to cover the more than $100,000 change orders.

A contractor offered to kick in $27,000 to help complete a walking trail on the condition the trail be posthumously named for the trail’s former project manager, Bill Coleman, who died recently. Council members voted unanimously to approve the naming.

Pauley said the county has spent nearly $2.2 million on the Ridgeway center, which he opposed during the previous administration. On Monday night, he read a prepared statement touting the project remains under budget, but no financials have been made available on the project.

“The proposed change orders can be absorbed by the contingency and will not require transferring additional funds,” Pauley said.

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