WINNSBORO — Fairfield County’s recent intergovernmental meeting at the Midlands Technical College conference room ended with two sides after different ends of the spectrum when it comes to long-term planning. After nearly two hours of standard local government updates, the state delegation began to question Fairfield County Council’s recent decision to allow Central Midlands Council of Governments (COG) to handle the county’s long-term strategic plan.
There is expected to be a vast amount of cash coming into the county with the two new nuclear reactors that are under construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville. The first payments (fee in lieu of ad valorem taxes) are scheduled to be made in 2019.
On May 27, county councilman David Brown (District 7) put the motion on the floor for the COG to handle the county’s long-term planning. The motion passed unanimously.
Fairfield County’s state delegation including Rep. MaryGail Douglas and Sen. Creighton Coleman took a certain opposition with not being given a chance to provide any input on a long term plan.
“Everybody should benefit from this money,” Coleman stated. “It’s not just the county’s money, it’s everybody’s money and that’s not what’s happening. “
Douglas noted that from 2004-2013, the county’s portion of the SCANA taxes has been almost $87 million.
“I think it is important to have some discussion to have some dialogue and that’s what we’re trying to do it get to a table,” she said. “And that has not happened and it’s frustrating.”
Fairfield County Council Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) echoed the frustrations of the state delegation with some of his own.
“It certainly is frustrating,” he said. “It’s been frustrating for 18 months. Senator Coleman we’ve tried to have a sit down meeting with you as a group.”
“When,” Coleman deflected. “I’m not going to argue with you.”
“Well I’ve got the correspondence, so don’t sit there and tell me you tried to meet with us,” Ferguson emphasized.
Coleman and Douglas stated they sent a request to county council on May 5 to discuss planning and did not receive any reply.
As the meeting continued, Fairfield County Council Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry (District 1) came to the defense of his fellow council members and read directly from an email correspondence off his smart phone.
Perry recited a paragraph that was written by Pope in reply to Douglas’ and Coleman’s request to meet and strategize long-term planning, “The council accepts your interest in this matter and invites you to participate with us in the process and continue to improve our community.”
Coleman asked how many days after the letter did they decide to go with COG and Perry did acknowledge that the reply was sent on May 20, when the vote to partner with the COG happened on May 27.
However, Perry still expressed his interest to include the State Delegation in the long-term planning.
“I’m a little confused because I am always open to work with our State Senator,” Perry told Coleman. “Creighton (Coleman) I will tell you that I’m thinking you all are involved in the process and we want to keep you involved and when I read this I’m thinking the whole time you were invited and we want you to be involved and come to the meetings,”
As the discussion began to show flare, Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy made his best attempt to arbitrate the situation.
“I think it is all about communication and that opens up the opportunity, but once you open up the opportunity then there is a responsibility to have a specific time and date set to make sure that everybody is on the same page,” he said. “There needs to be an official invitation to a specific meeting at a specific venue you invited us to the party, you just didn’t tell us when it was.”
Gaddy announced that next month he will become the chairman of the COG and he expressed his support for council to partner with the COG on its long-term plan.
“I think the COG is a good way to go with the planning because they have the expert planners there,” he noted. “All of the entities other than maybe the school board and Jenkinsville have attended those meetings at the COG. I’ll do everything I can in that planning process to make sure and encourage the COG to be in touch with all the different municipalities in the county and make them part of this planning process.”
Coleman inquired about the COG’s price tag to create a long-term plan and Pope said it has not yet been negotiated.
“What get’s me is I met with you with MaryGail to get together on this thing and I had SCE&G and Santee Cooper ready to pay for that plan,” Coleman stated. “They would pay for it and I’ve yet to get any cooperation from the county saying anything. Nothing. We’ve gotten a letter from Winnsboro, Ridgeway, Jenkinsville and the school district. Everybody but the county.”
Pope noted that just because the council partners with the COG, does not necessarily exclude any work that could still be done by planners at SCE&G and Santee Cooper.
Five years ago, Pope recollected when he was invited to a meeting in a Columbia community and because of the involvement of Santee Cooper it was looking to share the proceeds of the community.
“I can tell you that (cost sharing) is still a threat in my professional opinion,” Pope emphasized. “That is still a threat for other people across the state wanting to take money away from Fairfield County. I’ll be very consistent and before I ever had a relationship with Fairfield County, I said if this was some type of project coming into my community I would not want someone milling in and taking money from my community.”
Coleman responded by insisting his representation at the State House could help defer any cost sharing strategy.
“That’s exactly what we said is that we want to be able to defend and protect that money down at the State House,” Coleman explained. “One of the first things you have to be able to do is to create a well thought out plan where the whole community is involved.”
Brown said he would not be against the power companies paying for a long-term plan, but his motion on May 27 was merely to avoid the county forming a planning department and putting more people on the payroll.
“I think it would be wonderful if SCE&G and Santee Cooper want to pay for a plan, but my motion was to allow the COG to handle the planning rather than the county creating a planning department,” he explained. “They have all the expertise, so my motion was to allow them to be our planning department. There is not another footprint in America like the one we’re going to have with two new nuclear reactors coming online.”
Douglas said when she read that the COG was going to be the planners for the long-term strategy it was embarrassing at the State House because it appeared as if there were doors shut to two people in the delegation.
“This is not a question about the choice to go with the COG because we know they are experts in planning and experts at what they do,” she sated. “But what has happened is that as we have anticipated this money coming — I mean a boat load of money — here we are and we don’t really have a plan in place. I don’t think we’ve had the opportunity to bring ideas to the table.”
Pope provided some perspective and emphasized that the money coming in from the two new reactors was “fee in lieu,” meaning the money stays in the county.
“Let’s be clear about this, the monies that are coming to the county are monies that are going to be coming in through ‘fee in lieu,’ so lets be totally clear about that,” he stated. “What that means is that comes through the hospices of county council because that is how those things are structured. I have not heard from one council member that they do not want public involvement in the process of ideas.”
Part of Brown’s motion included using all the pre-existing information to go into the new plan.
“We’re not going to just let that document (Genesis Study) just sit on the shelf, we want it to be more utilized,” Pope insisted. “So that will be part of it as well as being a member of the I-77 Alliance. We’re going to leverage that for economic development in order to pull of that through the process. Once we’ve actually put that all together, I would imagine that at that time we would have some type of focus group to go through the information, which is what I mentioned in my email to the two (Douglas and Coleman) of you.”
Council discussed putting an action item on the next regular council meeting to decide on a specific date and time to meet with the state delegation about planning, however the item was absent from Monday’s agenda.