WINNSBORO — Does Fairfield County need jobs and industry or would the county be better off transitioning into a large retirement community?
The public raised questions such as those at the Monday meeting of Fairfield County Council when a number of people spoke during the public comment period to give their opinions about county tax rates and how tax dollars are being managed.
Council Chairman David Ferguson presented a letter that was read at the meeting summarizing the 2013-14 budget.
According to Ferguson, the budget includes a 2 percent cost of living increase for full-time county employees. He noted that it is more feasible to retain employees than to spend time training new hires.
The budget also addresses upgrades to the courthouse and county administration building. The tax rate is 8.6 mils lower than the total budget was for 2012-13, a reduction of $34.40 on the tax bill of a $100,000 residence, according to Ferguson.
The 2013-14 budget Ordinance No. 615 passed 6-1 with Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson voting against it. She said she opposed it in part due to the way recreation funds would be allocated. She said the $500,00 per district would be better spent on joint projects that crossed district lines and served needs of larger amounts of people, such as facilities for Meals on Wheels programs.
During public comment period, Winnsboro native Oliver Johnson said he believed the taxes had produced enough revenue over the last five to 10 years and questioned the need for the $24 million in bonds County Council had approved.
In his mind, he said, there is a county wide perception that the council is arrogant and catering to itself from a position of privilege.
He said he believed the simultaneous passage of bonds for school construction and for the economic development project indicated incompetence on the part of council members. Johnson said the county had out of control spending and that a “fixation on the industrial park and its speculative building” hurt the county’s growth potential it could gain by offering amenities to retirees to live here instead.
Betty Scott Fraiser Bell mentioned the mass exodus of people leaving the county from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“People leave with salaries they earn in Fairfield County and now the residents here are funding a new industrial park right in Blythewood’s back yard,” she said. “Why not use the nearly $24 million to solve county problems instead of growing new ones such as the problem of water and sewer?”
She said the industrial park water issues should have been avoided on paper and that Richland County should be writing a thank you note to Fairfield for putting in infrastructure to benefit its residents.
Yet Ferguson, County Administrator Phil Hinely and others noted later that some of Bell’s claims were simply untrue.
During County Council time, Ferguson responded that the County Council economic plan had been in place since 2009 and was not connected with the efforts the school district used, by a different mechanism, to levy its own bonds separate from the county.
“Twenty four million dollars of funding was not ALL set aside for an industrial park. Why did we put an industrial park where we did? Location,” Ferguson said.
Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry said he found the community feedback “disturbing.”
“They want community centers yet no raising taxes and (some constituents) say the county does not need jobs created,” he said. “Jobs are critical to the county.”
Ferguson said that only someone living in a stable environment with a job could say no jobs are needed in Fairfield. He mentioned how the county’s unemployment rate is around 11 percent and that in some cases it hits really hard when couples find themselves unemployed. He pledged as a councilman to continue to work to bring jobs to the county.
“When folks talk about the taxes they pay, well everyone sitting up here pays the same taxes that you do. It’s a juggling act. People may call you incompetent because they are paying taxes but we try to do the best we can do,” Ferguson said.
Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley said the comments about character bothered her.
“Allegations of arrogance really bothered me,” Kinley said. “We are here to do our best for our citizens and must look out for not just the richest but the poorest person in the county. If you hear street talk that we are arrogant and don’t know how to spend money, please come talk to us and say what’s on your mind.”
Councilman Kamau Marcharia noted council had not decided how to cross county lines and work out distributing funding. He appreciated the citizen turnout and applauded young people for making their voices heard.
Along those lines, representatives from the Dawkins community asked that the $500,000 allocated for recreation projects in each district be shared across district lines for the good of the residents.
Tanjee Jacobs said she was concerned about the western side of the county, that the residents of Dawkins have been holding fish fries, community meetings and events to help build up their community and asked that council consider bolstering the area by approving Dawkins have a community center.
Councilman Mikel Trapp said his district, District 3, would likely benefit more from mini-parks than a full scale recreation center. He said that if any funds were left from the $500,000 his district is allotted he would be willing to donate them to the cause of building up other areas in the county. That issue remains under discussion.
In other business:
— Carrie Suber O’neal was appointed to the Fairfield Memorial Hospital Board by a 6-0-1 vote with Kinley abstaining. Shirley Powell was appointed to the Fairfield County Disabilities and Special Needs Board 7-0.
— Council decided to table Bill Haslett’s diorama request so they could have more time to review the idea before their June meeting.
— Council will not meet on May 27, Memorial Day. Its next meeting will be June 10.
Contact Kevin Boozer at 635-4016 ext. 14 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @kevinboozer.