WINNSBORO — A proposed meeting between Fairfield County school officials and Fairfield County Council to discuss the school board’s decision to increase the tax millage to pay for construction of a new career center is on indefinite hold.
While both sides appear to understand the seriousness of the matter, there are disagreements about how a joint meeting should be conducted and whom it should include.
School Board Chairwoman Beth Reid said the school board offered to meet with County Administrator Phil Hinely, County Council Chairman David Ferguson, legal counsel and financial counsel. The board, according to Reid, wanted to have preliminary discussions with that group prior to there being any public discussion or meeting.
“We felt the (nuts and bolts of the) plan would be easier to discuss in that closed format,” Reid said. “We certainly welcome the county council to meet with us but we did not think a public forum would be conducive to these conversations.”
That form of a limited meeting did not sit well with Ferguson.
“We (meaning the county officials) declined to meet under those conditions because I don’t need to be the one answering questions for council. Council members should have the right to attend the meeting and ask,” he said.
County council requested that all members of both boards meet in a public forum to discuss the nature of the tax increase to pay for bonds for the career center project. That school construction project is different from a county-based economic development project that involves a different set of bonds and does not require a tax increase.
On Feb. 19 the board approved a resolution authorizing the bonds to be levied, so that part of the process is moving forward, according to Reid. The board conferred with its bond attorney who determined the board had the authority to authorize the tax rate increase.
Reid said she spoke with Sen. Creighton Coleman and Rep. MaryGail Douglas and that they agreed with her.
“We will have community forums for input on a career center and the public will be welcome to come out to them,” Reid said.
She also pointed out that J.R. Green’s forums are open to the public as well and how transparency from the board has increased on his watch.
For his part, Ferguson did not question the legality of the bond issuance or the board’s authority to issue bonds. Rather, he hoped to receive clarification about the debt the taxpayers would take on and the school board’s projection for the repayment of that debt.
He personally wondered if this were the best time to levy an increase coming on the heels of a recession and with so many people hurting economically. But really, he said, he could voice no firm opinion on the matter without knowing more about the specifics of the millage rate increase authorized by the school board.