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City Council Meeting June 21

Annexations on James Island questioned. More information sought on CARTA budget
Marc Knapp

It promised to be a long meeting with an agenda accumulated over the 4 weeks since the last meeting of City Council. It was a long meeting. But it could have been longer if some the items had been discussed at the length they deserved. Annexations on James Island were the most prominent of issues. As reported in the daily press, the City is planning on annexing 55 properties on James Island. It has been active in canvassing residents to join the City and clearly has enjoyed a measure of success. There were 55 aspirants for annexation this session of Council, and 20 whose applications were up for the second reading in this session. Not surprisingly considering the Mayor's desire to expand the boundaries of the City and to thwart the creation of a new town on James Island, Council approved the annexations. But there were some dissidents among Council members.

Council member George who represents the City on James Island opposed the annexations. He has said in the past that if residents of James Island wished to incorporate, then they should be allowed to do so without interference by the City. He thought it was not a good idea for economic reasons for a town to be incorporated but the citizens desires should be paramount. Maybe the City should try a different approach to the residents. He said many felt they been treated unfairly in the past and were suspicious. The City should try to reach out to them. Council member Fishburne also opposed the annexations and made comments similar to those of Council member George. Other Council members were silent on the issue. Considering the seriousness of the Mayor's intent, maybe there was fear in expressing an alternative view.

Yours truly also spoke in the Citizens Participation period and asked the City to provide some estimate of the costs of annexations. These could be considerable. There was also the issue of duplication of services with the City now having the obligation that was previously that of the James Island Public Service. The estimated added cost to the City from each annexation is $320 a year, a figure provided by Council member George. This cost is the amount that the City has to give to the Public Service District each year from the tax it collects on the properties. It is debatable as to whether the City will cover the cost of the services that it is to provide to the annexed properties after the payments.

CARTA budget- short on explanation
Considering the efforts that CARTA has made to ingratiate itself with the public, it was surprising that its proposed budget for the next fiscal year (ending September 30, 2006) was so short on detail. After all, the authority has gone out of its way to hold hearings to find out what services the public wanted, so it could have provided the public with more information to where the money was going.

In a single page, CARTA provided the sources and destination of funds for the fiscal year. Its operating budget was $14 million and its capital budget $11 million. To see a copy of the budget,Download file
We commented on the skimpiness of the details and this was also noted by Council members George and Fishburne. Council member Shirley also joined the fray and noted that the union that represented the bus drivers was threatening strike action for higher pay. Was this related to the fact that CARTA now had more money following the passage of the sales tax?

The Mayor and Council members Lewis, Evans and Gilliard defended CARTA with Council member Gilliard opining that the strike action was only a last resort. Council members Lewis and Evans are members of the CARTA board.

The financial statement was accompanied by a note that states that Phase 1 of CARTA's renewed service would be implemented no later than the end of this month and Phase 11 by the end of this year. The "new and improved service" would include park 'n ride lots; smaller busses; express routes; renewed service East of the Cooper, on James Island and in Hanahan; some additional routes in West Ashley, North Charleston and Downtown; and the reinstitution of some DASH routes. The proposed budget includes debt service payments on loans used to repurchase the Leeds Avenue Maintenance Facility, repayment of the ConServ Loan, and SCDOT loans.

We also note that fares represent only about 20% of projected revenues and a little more than 10% of the total combined budgets. Roughly 80% of revenue will be derived from grants and subsidies.

City to transfer land to Pastors for less than half cost

It is funny how memories fail. On the agenda was the sale of land to Pastors Inc, the non profit group on which Council member Gallant served as a director until late last year. The sales price was $30,000. Council member George asked what the land cost the City, a reasonable question for a council member fulfilling his responsibility. Nobody knew, and the Mayor dismissed the question because it did not matter what the cost and the subsidy might be, it was for affordable housing and subsidies were normal. Later the City came back with a figure of $30,000 as the cost.

We looked up the County records and they show that the City paid $72,700 for the property at the end of 1999. So if the County records are right, and we suspect they are, the City is selling at half the cost. Considering the escalation in land values since 1999, the value is now almost certainly well over the original cost. Press here to see County Document.

We and Council member George, I am sure, have no issue with the provision of "affordable housing". And we recognize that subsidies provided by City and HUD funds play a large role in its provision. But citizens have a right to know the extent of subsidies. This is the third example of land being sold to Pastors well below cost, the details of which were not revealed in a Council meeting. But the below-cost of the land is not the only subsidy that the City is passing on. Another subsidy occurs in the financing of the sale of the property after development.

We and others believe that the East and West sides of the Peninsula have become too expensive to provide meaningful quantities of "affordable housing". Yes, it can be provided but the subsidies are becoming astronomical. Earlier this year, we estimated the effective subsidy on a property to be developed by Pastors could be about $80,000. This subsidy reflected the below-cost sale of the property to Pastors and the likely subsidy the City would offer the ultimate purchaser who most likely could not afford to pay much more than $130,000 for a property. We suggest the City look to the Neck area to find land for "affordable housing".

Zoning and other issues
Citizens rose during public hearings and Citizens Participation to voice some complaints. One was unhappy about the development that was occurring at Eagleworld on James Island. The quality of life in her neighborhood (Harborwood lll) had been severely affected by the Eagleworld subdivision. She now had bright lights shining on her house from the nearby playing fields and the traffic volume had increased astronomically. How had the City allowed such a development?

The Mayor said it didn't. The development had been approved by the County and was subsequently annexed by the City. Mayor said the City would look into the matter.

Mrs. Kathleen Wilson, a new "employee" of the City and likely aspirant (again) to the seat of Council Member George, also rose in the Planning Session to praise something that was irrelevant to the property under discussion. We suspect she mistook the public hearing for Citizen Participation. She spoke without any interruption by the Mayor. Strange that! Ms Wilson has been assisting the City in annexations on James Island. We would be interested to know how she is being remunerated.

Another citizen who lives on Walnut Street voiced her concern about a property that sought to remain Light Industrial. The City in previous meetings converted the zoning of many properties to General Business from Light Industrial. The changes were made to make the restrictions to tattoo parlors easier to apply as the parlors will be confined to Industrial zoned areas. However, one of the property owners, on Walnut Street, had no desire to have its property rezoned. The site had been earmarked as a place to repair containers and other items. The speaker stated that problems would ensue if the property were allowed to continue as Industrial. Traffic patterns would change when the new Bridge was open. This would not allow easy access to the property and be very disruptive of what had become a residential community. The Council was won over by her appeal and voted accordingly.

Interestingly, Council Member Bleeker sought a deferment of any decision. She failed to note that her father, who is an attorney, represented the company that owned the industrial land. He spoke at the last Council meeting. Shouldn't she have recused herself at last night's hearing?

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