LOST, transparency discussed at town hall meeting

Kevin Boozer Staff Writer

September 24, 2013

WINNSBORO — A town hall meeting hosted by the Fairfield County legislative delegation Monday night focused on local option sales tax and county council accountability, or lack thereof, to its constituents.

Rep. MaryGail Douglas said people throughout the state are looking to Fairfield County and asking “if it could be happening there, could these issues happen in our county?”

Recently, Sen. Creighton Coleman said Abbeville County stopped cash payments in lieu of health insurance benefits for its county council as a result of the legal opinion put forth by the Attorney General’s office toward the Fairfield County situation.

Coleman called on those at the meeting to work to rein in county spending which would help lower taxes and create a more favorable environment to attract businesses.

“It is incumbent upon us that we stay involved, go to meetings and make our positions known,” he said.

He called on concerned citizens to continue building momentum toward their one chance to do something for the good of the county at the ballot box.

Around 60 people attended the meeting held in the Fairfield Central High School auditorium, including Interim County Administrator Milton Pope and County Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson.

Coleman attributed much of the situation the county finds itself in to the administration as it operated under Phil Hinely and said he trusts Pope to “do a good job for us.”

Coleman credited businesswoman Maggie Holmes for making issue of LOST and credits due taxpayers. The main point of contention was the belief that county council members should repay cash insurance payments and college tuition reimbursement.

If county council members agree to repay the reimbursements, Coleman said they should, in his opinion, sign a confession of judgment placing a lien on property until the debt was repaid.

Residents were concerned about attorney fees, accountant fees and add-on expenses resulting from their advocacy that would be passed on to taxpayers.

Coleman said in his opinion it would be the right thing for the county to consider reimbursing residents like Bill McMaster who have used their own money to pay for forensic audits and other investigations. He acknowledged the county has a lot of expense since it has employed three different attorneys and that there remains a lot of questions to work through.

Resident William Coleman questioned the money that rolled over as surplus each year and the county’s Local Option Sales Tax calculations. He said at the Sept. 30 meeting that the expertise of a forensic accountant will be available to help make sure there are checks and balances and to verify the county is using true accounting principles.

“I don’t want to bash the people, but we need (accurate) figures,” he said.

The county will place its check registry on the county website within the next 60 days in a move toward greater transparency.

Those assembled agreed to hold county council accountable as stewards of tax dollars. Douglas reminded the crowd to keep up its activism, saying it would take longer than three months to correct the issues facing the county because it took longer than three months to create them.

“Groups like this force accountability, and people throughout the state are watching us and what we are doing,” Douglas said.