WINNSBORO — Fairfield County Council approved final reading of the FY 2014-2015 budget at the May 12 regular scheduled meeting.
After a few small changes were worked out, the general fund will be set at $25,665,917 and the special revenue fund will be $7,629,997.
The total budget of $33,295,914 is down just a tad from last year’s 33,598,604.
The FY 2014-2015 budget does not include a tax increase.
Interim County Administrator Milton Pope respectfully asked council to consider proviso 17 to allow the county administrator to appropriate up to $3,000 of special revenue to victim assistance fund SC Victims Assistant Network.
“The victim assistance funds are totally earmarked funds by the state of South Carolina and we cannot use those for general fund purposes and we can only use them specifically for notification of victims of crime,” he said.
Pope noted that the budget numbers would not change and were accurate, but would allow him to approve those funds during the FY 2014-2015.
The line item for Central Alliance was reduced from $75,000 to $72,000
In the budget, each council member will receive $2,500 in discretionary funds, which was a lighting rod for a few public speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting.
District 7 resident Billy Smith asked for more information about the new policy moving forward.
“I personally think those things should be voted on in front of these citizens,” he told council. “It should be voted on by the full council. I’m not opposed to helping school kids or anything like that, which is the way some of this has been spun. There are ways to do those sort of things without making it look like it comes from an individual council member. There are also ways to do it without going through religious organizations.”
District 2 resident Pat Williams emphasized that funds are allocated per district and not by council member. She asked if the discretionary funds are doled out and credited to the council member or to the taxpayers of Fairfield County.
“In my opinion, if these funds are given in a council member’s name and the Fairfield County taxpayers receive no recognition, this could lead to a misconception that each council member is personally providing these funds,” Williams stated.
Williams said she was not against supporting a good cause in any district, however thought there should be guidelines and the funds should be given in the name of the Fairfield County taxpayer and not by council as a whole or by council as an individual.
“If any district has a specific need it should be brought to the floor and put to a vote so the citizens can see what is going on,” she said.
District 2 resident Sewlyn Turner believes the discretionary funds should be eliminated all together. She explained that if council stopped the $2,500 per district, they could save $17,500 in the new fiscal year.
“You would remove the suspicions of your group and the cast of red flags all over the place,” she stated. “Red flags go up when council members give money in their own name as if the money was their’s to give.”
Turned noted instances where three council members have given their discretionary funds to a church of their choice.
“Many taxpayers perceive this as an unfair and inequitable use of your (council) power to disperse county funds,” she noted. “There are many churches in your district and I feel sure that all of them need money. What is going on here? Isn’t it time we said goodbye to such deceitful and suspicious practices.”
Pope addressed discretionary spending when he advised council to change the policy when he began work for the county last summer.
He stated the dollar amount would be approved in the budget, however the distribution of funds would not be allowed until council adopted a new policy.
“It (policy) would have to go through our committee process because that is what all of council agreed on,” Pope advised. “Fairfield County is not the only local government in the state of South Carolina that has special funding that is not earmarked fora special general fund type of operation. But I do believe we need additional criteria on the policy to make the policy clearer.”