Editorial: Fairfield County is at a Critical Crossroad

Most rural community leaders across the state would love to have the amenities and advantages that Fairfield County enjoys. Bisected by I-77, its proximity to Columbia, USC, Charlotte International Airport, two beautiful lakes, a bucolic countryside of rolling hills and farms, and stable revenue from VC Summer, Fairfield County should be one of South Carolina’s most livable locations. Yet with all these advantages, Fairfield County is clearly on a downward trajectory.


Over the last 10 years, the county lost more than 3,400 residents. In 2022 alone, there were 199 more deaths than births. Fairfield Central HS, a former 4A powerhouse, dropped to 2A.

In the past few years, Winnsboro demolished more homes than were constructed. But for the Farmers Market and the renovation of the county administration building, the downtown has not seen many notable improvements.

 In the last 10 years, the county issued only 562 new home permits, and no subdivisions have been built since the 1980’s. Adequate waste water treatment capacity, a lynchpin for development, went unaddressed until about 2018, but the penny tax needed to build it was rejected by the voters, and that effort has been losing ground for the last three years. To top it off, during the last county council meeting, the administrator stated that there is a $2.5 million dollar revenue shortfall in this year’s budget draft. 

Without significant changes, the county will have to cut services, raise taxes or continue to make withdrawals from its shrinking fund balance.

The county and its communities did not get into this condition in a vacuum. For years, local leaders relied on ever increasing revenue from VC Summer to maintain the county’s operations without addressing critical infrastructure needs.  In 2018, many of Fairfield’s local leaders, including some sitting on council today, openly opposed the penny sales tax proposal. The revenues generated through the penny tax combined with generous grant commitments from the South Carolina Department of Commerce would have allowed for the construction of a much-needed waste water treatment facility that would probably have been finished as early as last year.  The increased capacity would have allowed Fairfield County to compete for many of the larger projects that have recently been announced in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.

Although recent leadership has failed the county in its effort to grow, the current leadership has the opportunity to leave a much more positive legacy by moving forward with a viable waste water treatment plant plan and by actively supporting residential growth.

Town and county leaders should encourage smart growth along existing developed road corridors where water and sewer lines are already in place. Additional residents, living in the new developments, would shop in local stores, visit both downtowns, attend local schools, participate in community organizations, and possibly become employed by new and expanding industry.

Additionally, more residents lead to more and better restaurants as well as improved medical facilities.  Existing residents will benefit from shorter drives to amenities thus increasing time with family and reducing fuel expenditures.

The county’s revenues, although stable, are flat.  If not addressed, inflation will suck the fund balance dry. Personnel will not stay unless there are pay increases; law enforcement will leave if forced to drive outdated, dangerous vehicles, and county facilities will fall into disrepair. 

It is imperative the county recruit new industry to generate new tax revenue.  Industry must have access to waste water treatment, therefore the plant must be built and built soon.

The good news is that the county should have about $46 million still available from the Dominion settlement three years ago plus additional grant funding and a willing partner in Winnsboro’s leadership. Winnsboro generates most of its revenue by providing utilities to in and out of town users.  More growth equals more revenue which lowers all user’s bills by spreading costs across a larger system. More revenue leads to downtown development and more amenities. Every day without progress is a missed opportunity to add new industry and new revenue.

There will be those who oppose growth because they “just don’t want growth,” but opposition is shortsighted; without growth, the county and town face a bleak future of declining services, rising taxes, and a continued decline in population.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]