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County Council Meeting October 5

Public Hearing on Sales Tax
Coastal Conservation League still opposes sales tax
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

The SC Coastal Conservation League opposed the proposed sales tax at the public hearing last night. The League has been outspoken in its criticism of the tax, in particular the lack of accountability in relation to the spending of the proceeds. Mr Eric Meyer who represented the League at the meeting stated:

"We are concerned about the lack of specificity, accountability, oversight and public involvement associated with this referendum should it pass on election-day. Thankfully Council member Tim Scott's ordinance addresses many of our concerns. We strongly support the development of a transportation plan with citizen oversight committee and ample public involvement, elements that are included in the current ordnance. Thank you for this action. I respectfully request that similar safeguards be applied to the greenbelt program."

Mr. Mayer then went on to suggest ways of allocation of the proceeds of the tax as it related to greenbelts, the need to develop a green space Master Plan, and establish an oversight committee.

In recent weeks, the County Council has moved to create the County Transport Committee (CTC) and has identified a number of projects on which tax funds will be spent. The CTC was proposed by Councilmember Tim Scott and would consist of 14 members, 10 of which would be appointed by each member of the County Council, 2 by the Cities of the County and the remain two from the northern and southern extremities of the county.

The League had previously said it would not support the tax, largely because there was insufficient oversight of projects. It also said that the "list (of projects delineated by the CTC is not based on any sort of analytical, objective process. It simply reflects the results of a horse trading exercise during which the bureaucrats representing various local governments in the county promoted their own pet projects. In the absence of accountability and oversight, the sales tax referendum is once again nothing more than a 25 year $1.3 billion slush fund." August 29, 2004, Post and Courier.

What has changed since the words were written? In our, and seemingly the League's view, not enough! Council has provided a list of projects that will absorb part of the funds targeted for infrastructure and transport. It has also defined how the members of the CTC will be chosen. It has also indicated that it expects the Parks and Recreation Commission to provide the guidance and oversight for greenbelts, a role incidentally it is uncomfortable with. Are we truly to believe that these bodies will take the politics out of allocating the tax proceeds? The members of these bodies are appointed by the Council and will be beholden to those who appoint them. One may hope that they will act in the community's best interest but they can hardly dismiss the attitudes of their patrons. We still think the Sales tax has the makings of a "slush fund". And we are pleased that the League continues to oppose it.

The League was much softer in it criticism last night than on previous occasions. It was pleased with some measures adopted by the County and to which it referred. We understand that the League has been under tremendous pressure from interested parties in the County and Cities to soften or reverse its stance. With a high reputation for credibility and concern for the environment, its endorsement of the sales tax referendum would be significant for its proponents.

Parks and Recreation Commission unhappy about role or oversight
Cindy Floyd, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission stated that it was not happy about the role they were to play in defining greenbelt targets and the staff "were not entirely comfortable". She said that the Commission was good at what it did, running parks and recreation facilities. But it had no expertise in the area of acquisitions. She suggested that an oversight committee be appointed to take up this role.

And what about restraint of urban growth?
Two other speakers warned of the necessity to do something to preserve the rural land of Johns Island. Without some measure, the half sales tax was a waste of time according to one speaker. He suggested that the County issue Purchaser Developer rights as a means of retaining control. The other suggested that the county look at a Farmland Protection Plan that was developed in 2000.