While the debate over the county’s budget, and if there really is a shortfall, continues to make headlines, some have asked county council to forgo their discretionary funding.
It is customary for councils to have a discretionary fund, which they use for various things such as to donate to private organizations and charities. Each councilmember was allocated $7,226 in the 2018 budget.
The problem of course is how the funds are spent. For example, a group appeals to council for money for a program. The councilmember in that particular district donates $500 but the other councilmembers only donate $100, if any. In some cases it’s obvious and understandable why a councilmember would hold on to his funds so to provide for his or her constituents. The fact is, council is spending taxpayers’ money and the taxpayers have no say whatsoever in the way they spend it.
Several of them also indulge in a weeklong vacation while attending an annual conference. Each summer councilmembers, along with the clerk and supervisor attend the South Carolina Association of Counties Conference. Attendance provides a wealth of information, especially for new members. Attendants arrive Sunday, August 4, and leave Thursday, August 7. In the past, the supervisor, clerk and Councilmember Sam Floyd stayed in the hotel at a cost of approximately $700 while others enjoyed a home on a golf course with private pool and other amenities for a week at a cost ranging from $3,000 to over $4,000.
There is no law saying they can’t do it as long as they pay back overages. However, an email dated July 10, 2018, from then CFO Stephen Edwards and addressed to former and current councilmembers and others said he was confirming he received signed approvals for housing charges for the 2018 conference that, “exceeded the maximum allowable under County Council approved limits. As expressed previously by the external auditor, myself, and others, it appears that these charges are equivalent to receiving personal gain with public funds. However, your signature indicates your approval that these are legitimate county business charges and to protect the county’s financial credit rating, therefore the credit card will be paid.”
Everybody talks about ways to cut back. Maybe our councilmembers should rethink their giving and vacationing and focus on the citizens’ needs; especially when fiscal conservatism is a glaring topic.
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