WINNSBORO — Is a 34 mil increase to finance a new career center the most prudent way for taxes to be levied in Fairfield County, particularly during a recession? That question was discussed at length in the March 11 Fairfield County Council meeting.
Councilman David Brown expressed concerns about numerous calls he had received about a proposed 34 mil tax increase to fund a new career center for the school district.
Brown was concerned that a big one year jump in millage would be detrimental to attracting industry and that it would be harsh on people who own second homes.
Council Chairman David Ferguson said that questions keep swirling as to whether a bond referendum needed to be offered for the career center.
“The money from V.C. Summer is not two to three years out, but it is six years away in 2019. I hope people aren’t spending money and thinking it is about two or three years,” Ferguson said.
The nuclear plant funds would be available as general funds to the county and county council would have say so over disbursement of the funds, Ferguson said. Some people are assuming there will be a proportionate split of money but he said that according to county attorneys that need not be the case.
Brown expressed concerned that the legislature told county council in recent years they could only increase millage in small increments but that the school district plan is up to 10 times the allowed amount.
“The school district needs the career center, but is this how to finance it?” Brown asked.
County Administrator Phil Hinely said that in a conversation with Attorney Brent Jeffcoat, who is advising the district, Hinely explained how in 2017 the county would meet with all of the public agencies about their particular capital needs. Once the needs are determined, a capital campaign would be held.
The millage increase that is proposed under the district’s current plan would increase millage from 8 mils up to 34 mils. County Comptroller Laura Johnson, Deputy County Administrator Davis Anderson and TITLE Kevin Robinson met and Robinson outlined the potential impact a millage change would have on a $100,000 home and a $200,000 home.
Councilman Dwayne Perry, vice-chair to council suggested the council open up a proactive dialogue with the district.
Council agreed to set up a meeting with its financial staff and the school board to talk about concerns and to compare the district figures of millage rate affect on a $100,000 home with the values and data that county tax assessor NAME is now compiling.
“County Council was told it could not do that kind of tax increase,” Ferguson said.
In other financial news, Fairfield County Comptroller Laura Johnson reported the county had a A+ credit rating following a review that increased the county rating from the A- it scored in 2002.
After a 2009 review the rating increased to an A+ rating. The 2009 bonds issued with a credit rating of A+ rather than a rating of A- saved between $300,000-$500,000 in interest over the term of the bonds.
Other counties with credit ratings of A or higher include Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Jasper, Lancaster, Laurens, Newberry, Orangeburg, Sumter, and Williamsburg.
In other business:
• Ferguson said the council was to visit V.C. Summer on March 14 for a tour arranged by the Shaw group that would get the members acquainted with the facility and training routines there, particularly with regard to staff development.
• Hinely said that the Army Corps of Engineers was able to continue with its assessment of water capabilities and needs for the county despite the limits of sequestration. He said some of the workers asked not to do furloughs so that the Fairfield work could be completed and that some funds marked for Jacksonville, Fla. were transferred here instead. Council and Winnsboro Town Council can expect an update in July and then around a twelve month process to finalize the findings and/or recommendations.
• Ferguson, Hinely and Perry touched on their recent trip to Washington, D.C., to speak with the delegation representing Fairfield County. Ferguson particularly mentioned the state not taking federal funding that could be used to stabilize struggling rural hospitals such as Fairfield Memorial Hospital. The three men will provide more detailed remarks about their experiences in D.C. at an upcoming county council meeting.
• Council met in executive session to receive legal advice and to discuss economic development matters, but they took no action. Council members made motions that will be available for discussion at the next county council meeting, though.
County council next holds a regularly scheduled meeting March 18 at 6 p.m.