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County Council Meeting May 3

Capital Improvement spending to jump over next 5 years
Tax increase maybe avoided
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

The Finance Committee met yesterday to consider the Fiscal year 2006 budget and the 5 year Capital Improvement plan. There was little of contention in the operating budget and it was duly passed by the Committee. But the 5 year Capital Improvement Plan was much discussed. The contention related largely to the new jail and to a lesser extent the changes planned to the County's Azalea complex. Together, these items would add $113 million to spending over the next 5 years with the new jail complex representing about $86 million. Total spending over the next 5 years including Azalea and the new jail is projected at about $142 million.

With such a hike in spending, and a concomitant increase in borrowings, was an increase in property taxes likely? Well nothing was certain but the County Administrator Mr. Windham was hopeful that there wouldn't be, at least not because of the Capital spending program. He noted that there would be savings in debt servicing over the next 2 years amounting to about 3 mills and this could be applied to debt servicing in the years thereafter.

New jail to be very costly
The Committee was uneasy about Mr. Windham's proposal for the new jail but despite the wriggling and squirming, it seemed inevitable that Mr. Windham's plan had to be accepted. He argued that the conditions in the existing jail were bad and these views were echoed by some Council members who had inspected the jail. There was urgency in the need for construction. At issue was also the need for either 1 or 2 "pods". If there were only one pod, then less than 700 inmates could be accommodated - about half the present number of inmates. Could measures be taken to reduce the present number of inmates? Yes it was possible but from studies made by the staff and others, the reduction would be minimal.

The County Sheriff addressed the Committee and said yes, there were people incarcerated for just drug possession or use but they were relatively few in number. He was commenting on remarks by one citizen that many were in jail because of alcohol or drug problems and that counseling and treatment were better alternatives to incarceration. Yes, many of the inmates - 4 out of 5 - had these problems but they were incarcerated because of other crimes, not for "possession or use". He also added that it was not feasible to build only one pod and not the other. If there were to be only one pod, then the configuration of the cells and other facilities would be quite different if there were to be two pods. In other words, 2 pods were necessary and they needed to be built concurrently.

SPCA relocation to create problem
Mr. Windham also noted that problems relating to relocating the SPCA facilities could delay the construction of the new jail. The new jail will utilize the area now occupied by the SPCA. The SPCA has had difficulty in locating a new site. It ran foul of North Charleston Zoning at one site it identified and has yet been able to locate another. Considering lead times for design and construction of a new SPCA facility, let alone the finding of a suitable site, there seems a real likelihood that construction of the new jail will be delayed.

The Azalea Complex that houses a number of County facilities is to undergo some changes and upgrades over the next few years. The most expensive will be the construction of a new Law Enforcement Center costing an estimated $12.3 million. Other changes related to an automotive "shop", EMS supplies, mosquito control and a Sheriff warehouse.

County Operating Budget up 6%
The County operating budget of the fiscal year was projected to increase by 6% to $88.7 million. No increase in property taxes was proposed to finance the budget. Full time employee numbers were projected to increase by 12 persons for the year, less than a 2% increase on the present staff complement. The budget was passed with little discussion.

Spending on incinerator could lead to higher disposal fees
The Finance Committee also considered a Solid Waste Capital Improvement Plan for the next 5 years. The Plan highlighted a decision that Council would have to make in relation to the Incineration Plant at Bees Ferry. This decision - to replace or purchase the incinerator - may require a substantial outlay and cause a hike in solid waste disposal fees. The staff has projected the cost at $50 million in the year 2010 but this is clearly an estimate. The plan assumes that this spending will be financed by borrowings.

The County's solid waste disposal centers on its site at Bees Ferry. As well as purchase and replacement of the incinerator, the County is spending on improvements and considering purchasing adjacent land for future disposals. It also notes that the newly lined landfill site should be good for 20 to 30 years assuming that an incinerator is utilized at the site. The incinerator is responsible for disposing of about 85% of all solid waste. Press here for summary

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