Fairfield’s draft budget has $2.5 million shortfall

WINNSBORO – It’s another budget year and once again, Fairfield County likely has to dip into reserves to deliver a balanced budget.

On Monday night, council members voted unanimously to approve first reading of the proposed $44.6 million budget. Two more readings are required to finalize the budget.

Because Fairfield County Council chooses to vote by title only on first reading, there was no formal discussion. Moments later, though, interim administrator Clay Killian provided an overview of budget highlights.

Killian said expenses exceed revenues by about $2.5 million based on the latest version of the budget.

“Most revenue sources are remaining fairly stable but are not growing sufficiently to keep our expenses from outpacing our available resources,” he said.

Killian said the proposed budget doesn’t include a tax increase, though he noted council members could enact one to lessen the blow to reserves.

“Overall, the county’s financial condition remains sound but there are some troubling trends we are facing,” Killian said. “This proposed budget doesn’t address all of the county’s needs and challenges of our departments, but it should keep the organization moving forward.”

The proposed budget is the fourth consecutive financial plan with a revenue shortfall.

In 2022, the county sold capital assets and applied payouts from Dominion litigation to balance the budget.

Fairfield redirected about $5.9 million from reserves to balance the budget in 2023 and 2024. The 2024 budget also included a tax increase.

Killian said Fairfield must diversify revenue sources, such as from economic development, to bring about long-term budget stability.

“The use of reserves and frankly tax increases are both unsustainable in the long-term,” Killian said.

Earlier in the meeting, Kathy Faulk with the Hoof and Paw Benevolent Society called upon the county to appropriate up to $100,000 for immediate improvements to the current animal shelter.

Faulk said in addition to capacity issues, the shelter needs a fully staffed department with at least one Class 3 officer and a veterinarian.

“That funding could bring our shelter up to the humane level of care I’m talking about,” she said. “Each year we come to council with serious needs, not wants. And each year our requests are placed on the back burner. We are hopeful this will be the year and you will be the council that will help.”

A budget workshop was scheduled for Wednesday after The Voice went to press.

Second reading on the budget and a public hearing could come by the first council meeting in May.

Comprehensive Plan Postponed, Again

In other business, council members unanimously voted to once again table second reading of the comprehensive plan. It must come back up for second reading in May, according to council rules.

State law requires cities and counties to update their comprehensive plans every 10 years. Fairfield last updated its comprehensive plan in 2010.

Fairfield voted to table second reading earlier this month after a private resident noted several glaring errors in the draft plan.

On April 8, District 2 resident Brenda Worthington said the prior plan contained outdated housing prices and zoning density regulations that she said don’t belong in comprehensive plans.

Worthington returned to the lectern Monday night, urging council members not to rush second reading at the expense of clarity and accuracy.

“Yes, it’s late. But don’t accept it just because it’s what we have right now,” she said.

“I hope you make an effort to create a comprehensive plan that’s good for Fairfield County’s future instead of a plan that doesn’t seem to understand the composition of Fairfield County.”

Worthington voiced further concerns that the plan appears aimed at encouraging subsidized housing.

“It appears the plan for Fairfield County’s future is subsidized housing around the town of Winnsboro,” she said. “The target is for housing of low to moderate housing incomes. Can this be defined by anything other than subsidized housing?”

Deputy administrator Synithia Williams said county staff and regional planners recently met with Worthington to address her feedback and hash out any errors or inconsistencies.

Williams said the county has spent the past two years developing the current comprehensive plan draft. She said it’s a reflection of staff and planning commission input, citizen comments and surveys.

On the issue of zoning densities, Williams said those references were intended to be high-level general descriptions and not restrictive in any way.

“The descriptions do not prohibit or hinder other types of development in those areas,” she said. “They don’t set a maximum density in the areas, nor do they change zoning in those areas.”

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