WINNSBORO — Interim County Administrator Milton Pope sees hope and promise for Fairfield County six months into his tenure.
When he accepted his interim position on July 23, 2013, the county hung under the cloud of allegations concerned citizens made that $5.2 million of local option sales tax (LOST) money was missing from county coffers. Pope said under his leadership the county received an independent analysis of the situation from attorneys and an auditing firm to look at the numbers.
“We looked at the process (by which local option sales tax is calculated) and have methodology in writing and are following recommendations consistent with that (documentation),” Pope said. “From an administrative fiscal standpoint that was a major item that needed to be addressed.”
Pope said in his opinion that the findings concluded there was a LOST tax credit of $2.4 million.
From a staff standpoint, Pope said his leadership includes regular meetings with county department directors. The county promoted Hyatte Kelsey to HR director, freeing up Deputy County Administrator Davis Anderson from the HR duties that had been rolled into that position. As such, Anderson now has more time for management oversight with department directors.
“From the inside, in my opinion, it seems like (this structure) is leading to greater cohesiveness on issues,” he said.
Another change Pope has encouraged was county council approving a committee process, something Pope calls an invaluable resource to the community.
“This (system) gives a more thorough review to look at fiscal issues and policy matters before they come before council,” he said
Those changes did not occur in a vacuum. Pope noted that while he can advise the county council and present them with options, the council sets the policy.
When he began working in Fairfield County, Pope interviewed each county council member to get to know that member, learn of issues and positions the member felt strongly about and to become acquainted so each member could learn of Pope’s leadership style.
Jobs as focus
Moving forward, he said his main goal for the county is jobs. “I want to attract jobs to fit the skills set of the majority of the people in this county and also attract high wage, high skill jobs to attract people to come here,” Pope said.
To critics who say bringing in jobs for which employees drive to Fairfield and then commute back home to pay taxes in another county, Pope pointed out that while there are benefits to an increase in residential population and county tax base there also are limitations since more people require expanded county EMS and fire and police services, for instance.
Growth, in his mind, is a balance between the money it takes to supply jobs and stimulate an economy and sustain a community and the money it takes for a county to provide its residents with services.
“Our public servants work here and (as a whole) want to do a good job and many of those county employees have roots in the area…. I want to see the community do well,” Pope said. “I believe the future and horizon look bright for Fairfield County and I hope my time here helps the county to achieve some of those positive things on the horizon.”
Another goal is to update the county procurement process. Internally, he said, this is an update, for instance with the RFQ with recreation information to be used as a tool while the county looks for consultants to help make a master list of recreation projects and assess feasibility, project design, project usage and other issues.
Next up: county budget
This spring, as he serves out his second six-month contract, working on the county budget is the next big item of business.
Pope held meetings with department directors the second week in January to get their input on developing a county budge. Under his leadership, the plan is for the county to adopt the budget in May.
“In my view, I have independent auditors looking at the books with no vested interest in hiding anything,” Pope said. “That audit includes the general fund budget as well as outside agencies that are millage funded and fall under the auspices of the county.”
According to audit information that needed final verification at the time of this interview, in the past fiscal year the county adopted a budget of $24,508.07 and collected $24,014,364.44 of revenue. So the county was slightly under on revenue for that fiscal year, according to Pope.
Outstanding bonds for $24 million were issued for various projects. That money may look like cash to some concerned citizens but Pope said that bond money is not used to meet general fund obligations.
Pope said his continued goal is to bring more transparency to county government. Under his leadership the county placed the county check register online and linked that financial record to the state comptroller general’s office.
Council documentation now includes, report of actions statements lending, he hopes, to more transparency of items by council, including documents made available to the public such as request of action documents that are part of the county council packet.
Pope’s plan is for this document to lead to more information becoming public knowledge before county council takes votes on issues.
Emphasis on economic development
At the top of Pope’s list is helping people to have employment where people can earn living wages and support families.
“It’s time to cultivate what we have and market that to bring jobs to Fairfield County,” Pope said.
He realizes that is a major issue for the majority of citizens in the county. Pope said Fairfield County has a lot of frontage land along I-77 and that the alliance with York and Chester counties will help the county’s efforts to attract industry.
He hopes for a major economic announcement for the county in February.