FAIRFIELD COUNTY — Fairfield County Council’s third and final reading of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year included a road usage fee of $5 for residential vehicles and $10 fee for commercial vehicles.
“It’s 4-3 for,” said Fairfield County Council Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson.
Fairfield County’s general fund for the upcoming fiscal year is $27, 030,68.28.
Councilman Dan Ruff, District 1; Councilman Walter Larry Stewart, District 3; and Councilman Billy Smith, District 7; voted against the final reading.
Stewart attempted to make a motion while Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley, District 6, had a motion on the floor to give the budget final reading.
“My motion was going to be to remove the $123,570 for the road maintenance fee — just take it totally out of the budget,” Stewart said.
When it was explained the budget was closed and the road usage fee was included, Stewart voiced his displeasure.
“Well, if that’s the way you want to operate, whatever,” Stewart said.
During public comment, multiple Fairfield County Residents expressed displeasure with the road usage fee.
Fairfield County resident Wanda Carnes expressed concerns about adding a $5 fee for residential vehicles and $10 fee for commercial vehicles to taxes she feels are exorbitant.
“I don’t see how you can expect the people of Fairfield County to pay any more money,” Carnes said. “You’re taking the food, vacations, cars, recreation out of the families pockets — it’s got to stop.”
Fairfield County resident Beth Jenkins expressed her opinion that the road usage fee may not technically be a tax increase, but it will cost some taxpayers to pay more money.
“If you dress a skunk up in a puppy dog costume, it still stinks,” Jenkins said.
Final reading was preceded by a series of budget item reductions including a reduction of $5,250 for council cellphone plans and a reduction of $1,350 for promotional supplies for recreation.
Council also voted for a $29,100 reduction of county allocations.
This effectively froze the allocations for Good Samaritan House, Transitions, American Red Cross, Chameleon Inspirations Learning Center and Eau Claire Medical Cooperative at their 2015 levels. This represented a reduction of $2,000; $2,500; $1,250; $1,250; and $5,000 respectively.
Council reduced the allocations to Harvest Hope Food Bank and the Boys and Girls Club by $5,000 each. County council had not allocated money to either organization in 2015, so Harvest Hope Food Bank and the Boys and Girls Club allocation received no funding.
“Just to remind everyone that we’re not cutting them what we gave them in 2015,” Stewart said. “We’re just freezing them at that level.”
Stewart further added the county is not those organizations’ only source of income.
Fairfield County Vice Chairman Kamau Marcharia, District 4, and Kinley voted against freezing allocations at their 2015 levels.
“Every one of these are helping people and children,” Kinley said. ” I just feel that we do not need to cut these, and keep them where they are.”
Kinley said Good Samaritan House is the only organization in Fairfield County that helps residents with their utility bills.
Marcharia said it seemed counterintuitive to oppose the financial strain caused by a $5 road fee, but to support reducing funding for programs that offer aid to the poor.
“These community-based organizations serve a very vital function for the service of the community,” Marcharia said.
The reductions ultimately passed 5-2.
Although District 7’s councilman said he was not completely satisfied with the final project, Smith said he was proud of the effort Council put into the budget process.
“This council, comparatively to last year, has done a good job with the budge,” Smith said.
Fairfield County Council voted to approve Fairfield County administration to negotiate Fairfield County’s strategic plan with TYLI.
“This is a request to negotiate Fairfield County’s strategic plan,” said Fairfield County Administrator Milton Pope. “Basically, where we are at this particular point is based upon the submissions this has been narrowed down to one company, and their name is TYLI, they’re a large firm out of Atlanta.”
Up to this point, Pope said the process has included partnering with Central Midlands Council of Governments, publishing the solicitation, receiving submissions from vendors and interviewing firms.
“This was the firm that actually, met most of the specifications for the request we had placed out there,” Pope said.
Pope explained before the total package is brought before Council, administration must negotiate pricing.
“What would be done if you give administration the authority to move forward with that is a recommended price will be brought back to you, so that can be publicly released,” Pope said.
Pope said public input will be a significant part of the strategic planning process.
Smith expounded this idea.
“I just wanted to specify to everyone who’s here tonight, and hopefully those on the television will see it as well, there will be a series of two public meetings, so there will be different series and three meetings each, so there will be at least six meetings as a part of this strategic planning process,” Smith said.
Dates and times for these meetings have not been set.
Fairfield County Council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is June 22 at 6 p.m. at Fairfield County Government Complex.