County approves new spending policy

By Lucas Vance lvance@civitasmedia.com

August 6, 2014

WINNSBORO — Fairfield County Council recently gave unanimous approval to the Community Enhancement Funds Policy, previously known as the Discretionary Funds Policy.

Council voted 7-0 following the the recommendation from the finance committee after a July 14 meeting.

Fairfield County Administrator Milton Pope noted the task of revamping the policy was deemed a point of focus since his hire last summer.

“This was one of the items council asked staff to look at and recommend new policy after we completed the budget process,” he stated during council’s regular meeting July 28. “I clearly believe you should try to be transparent when you have a policy and how you want or desire a program to be.”

However, the revised policy did not come without dissent from the public.

District 2 resident Selwyn Turner expressed her opposition of the Community Enhancement Funds during the public comments portion of the July 28 meeting.

“A discretionary fund by any other name is still the discretionary fund,” she said. “You can call it Enhancement Funds all day long, but it still stinks to high heaven just like a discretionary fund.”

Turner implied that council members might use the enhancement funds to sway votes their way during elections.

“A discretionary fund is apparently a deceptive fund that makes our council members look good and generous in the eyes of their constituents so that ultimately they will be re-elected by the recipients they selectively choose to receive the $2,500 per district funds that appear to be coming from the council members instead of the taxpayers,” she said.

Councilman Kamau Marcharia from District 4 took exception to Turner’s comment that council members would try to buy votes by awarding funds to the public.

“I’ve never done this to get a vote, that is not what this is about,” he stated. “We’ve got people who are going hungry when school is out and we help them with food.”

Pope deflected Turner’s criticism as well by noting that all of council’s spending by a totality is discretionary. He explained that each award requires a vote by the entire council because all expenditures are a collective consensus approval.

Pope also recommended introducing an evaluation process to the policy that will task county staff to list prospective award recipients to council members.

“Staff will rank or rate the proposals that have the greatest impact on the community and then the final decision will be left up to council to pass by majority vote,” he explained.

The application information will be posted publicly so every organization has an opportunity to apply for funds.

“We attempt to make the program more definable, clear and accountable to document the things we are to approve,” Pope said.

Although Marcharia did vote to approve the policy, he noted that he didn’t agree with allowing county employees to make the decision on ranking applicants for community enhancement funds.

“I think each council member should be able to pick a person from their district,” Marcharia said.

Prospective recipients will have to fill out a four-page application that indicates which district the organization is located, which funds they are applying for and information about the organization.

Charitable organizations will be required to provide a copy of their 501(c) or 501(c)3 designation form or a copy of their registration form from the Secretary of State’s office.

Awards will be voted on by council by increments up to $500 and a maximum of $2,500 available per district.

If an application is approved a check will be made payable to the organization or individual that is indicated on the IRS form W-9.

Turner continued to be critical of council members, saying community enhancement should be left up to the community.

“If you (council) would just do what you’re supposed to do you wouldn’t have time to run around giving out freebies to certain individuals and groups that you determine worthy of this money,” she stated. “Let the churches tend to the charity in their communities. Let the schools or individual clubs tend to needy children and you tend to the progress of Fairfield County.”

In light of that criticism, Fairfield County Council Vice Chair Dwayne Perry from District 1 said he was happy to have a transparent avenue to help community members in need.

“Growing up in Ridgeway and being underprivileged and not having funds, I can tell you it may not mean a great deal to some of the folks in here, but when you donate $10 to a child, it does mean a great deal,” he said. “I don’t care if it buys a pack of paper or a pencil, which may not sound like a great deal, but to some folks it does mean a great deal.”

Council Chairman David Ferguson echoed Perry’s sentiment and asked staff to expedite the policy after its approval so the churches and children would not be left out this year.

“This has come under great scrutiny, but when we’re helping children go back to school, a little means a great deal,” he said.