WINNSBORO — District 17 Sen. Creighton Coleman and District 41 Rep. MaryGail Douglas held a town hall meeting this week at Fairfield Central High School to discuss issues the community wanted to prioritize as the year’s General Assembly session kicks off.
The first topic of the night was the hot button issue for the county at the moment: Walmart.
Coleman emphasized what the store closing means to the community and said he would be meeting with Walmart executives to address the closing of the store and actions they need to take to help the community in their absence.
While the Walmart issue was fresh on everyone’s mind, the most discussed issue of the evening revolved around the county’s Economic Development Strategic Plan.
Several residents questioned the plan, saying that a similar plan was put in place less than a decade ago and the issues facing the county today were all the same.
Ridgeway Mayor Charlene Herring said the biggest change needed with this plan is accountability.
“These things were said several years ago. I was on the original committee,” she said. “Somehow we have to make this plan accountable to the people who direct it, who lead it, to citizens who are on committees to make it happen, because a good plan is good unless it sits on a shelf.”
One of the areas the Economic Development Strategic Plan discussed during county council’s work session as being a weak area for the county was education.
School Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green and School Board Chair Beth Reid both said during the meeting that the consultants presenting their findings had interviewed them and, rather than education itself, it was the perception of the school district that was the issue.
Local attorney Crosby Lewis said that the basic flaw in education, not just in Fairfield County but across the state, is poverty. Lewis said he wasn’t sure how to fight poverty, but that he hoped elected leaders had a plan.
Dr. Virginia Schafer agreed that poverty was something that needs to be addressed, but felt there was a greater threat to the community.
“There is a disconnect with everything,” Schafer said. “Nobody communicates, nobody wants to work together. We need to come together as a group and not just say ‘this is a problem.’ People are apathetic, so we’ve got to get ideas to unite everyone on education, employment, and health.”
Lisa Brandenburg followed Schafer’s sentiment and focused specifically on healthcare.
“We need healthcare in this county that’s affordable,” Brandenburg said. “We don’t need a brand new building, but we do need to be able to get health services for any and everybody in the county.”
James McGraw, chairman of the Fairfield Memorial Hospital board, said things are dire, but they are working to save the facility.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen healthcare in Fairfield County, but it’s the same all over South Carolina,” he said.
McGraw said a major reason for the situation was Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision not to sign a healthcare bill which would have expanded Medicaid, and that cost the hospital nearly $11 million.
McGraw further said that the hospital hopes to find a larger system to be a part of.
“We’re trying to make ourselves more attractive for larger systems to other institutions that would be interested in coming in and securing the hospital,” he said.
Another topic that generated plenty of conversation was the gas tax that the General Assembly will begin working on soon.
The plan Coleman and Douglas discussed would add $.04 to the existing tax of $.16 per gallon over the next three years. The funds would be used to repair roads and bridges that desperately need it. Also included in the discussion was increasing the fees for vehicle registration and driver’s licenses.
Reach James Inabinet at 803-635-4016.