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County Council Public Hearing - July 8

Half-cent Sales Tax Increase and Property Tax Cap
Warning on wording of the referendum
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty

There was little new ground covered in the public hearings before the Charleston County Council on the ½ cent sales tax increase and the property tax cap. About half a dozen persons spoke on the sales tax referendum proposed by the county and all were in favor expect Mr. Joey Douan. Mr. Douan was responsible for initiating the successful action to undo the results of the last referendum. His speech was probably the most interesting, He stated that the governor had mandated that the wording in the referendum proposed for November be essentially that of the first. Yet, he noted, there were substantial differences.betwen the two. These he feared would be sufficient for another suit after the next referendum. We could be back here in 2 years confronting the same issues, he warned. Mr. Douan did not speak against the imposition of the tax and indeed stated that the county needed a public bus system. Considering his past opposition to the tax, it may be too much to read into this a newfound support for CARTA. He also expressed surprise that the County had not formed a citizens committee to help guide the county in implementing the sales tax or allocating the proceeds.

Mayor Riley speaks in favor of the tax
Joseph P Riley Jnr, the mayor of the City of Charleston spoke for the sales tax , which of course was not a surprise considering his strong support in the past. He started his speech with observations how the region has grown so strongly and how this growth had brought with it traffic and infrastructure problems. Many communities needed these funds so that they could be "ahead of the curve" in development works, he said. He then went on to list the numerous projects that would be financed with the proceeds of the sales tax. He inferred that without the tax, many projects could be deferred. Most of his speech was devoted to this area of spending with little time used for speaking about the needs of CARTA and "green space".

Mayor Riley also noted that the tax would not fall so heavily on members of the community. He estimated that visitors to the county would contribute about 1/3 of .the total tax. He also noted that funds from the sales tax were needed so that the county and cities could qualify for matching grants from Federal sources. He cited as an example the Cooper River Bridge.

Big increase in population expected
One of the speakers drew attention to the large growth expected in South Carolina over the next 20 years. He projected a population increase of 1.1 million with 1/3 of these people opting for the coastal area. And of this 1/3, about [X] could be expected to come to the Charleston region. Overall, this represent a projected increase of nearly 100,000 people and compares with a population of the county and the major cities of Berkeley and Dorchester Counties of about 500,000.(The latter is our estimate not the speaker's). The figures that he gave the audience were those projected for the State. But he gave a rule of thumb for working out the impact on Charleston. Based on his figures and rule of thumb, we estimated a need for another 70,000 dwellings, 2300 hotel rooms, 6 million square feet of warehouse space, 6 million feet of retail space, and 2 million sq feet of office space for the Charleston region alone.

The message - growth is coming and we need to prepare for it.

Kiawah Island residents urge county to perservere with property tax cap
And as for the property tax cap, all the speakers were for it and encouraged the county to persevere with the cap. All were from Kiawah Island and represented various organizations on the island. They noted that property values had risen strongly there in recent years in common with other coastal areas of the county. Some people were selling and leaving the island and some were experiencing hardship. And indeed, continuing increases in property taxes could affect property values.

All the speakers acknowledged the difficult position of the county. The legality of county's bid to place a cap at 15% was still to be determined by the Supreme Court . It was further complicated by a tax cap that could be implement by the State. The Governor has yet to sign off on this bill and indeed there is speculation that he may not.

For me, the highlight of the meeting was the speech by Mayor Riley. He has supporters and detractors but all would confess, I think, that he can be a tad long winded more than sometimes. I suspect that Mayor Riley would agree. So he obviously was feeling uncomfortable trying to fit all of the things he wanted to say into 3 minutes. He almost succeeded.