The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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County Council June 2

Property reassessment notices going out shortly
Be prepared for the howls, Assessor warns
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

Be prepared for the phone calls when property re-assessment notices are mailed out shortly, the County Assessor warned Council members at last evening's Finance Committee meeting. On average, properties in the County rose near 50% since the previous valuation but some areas sustained increases of over 80%. He stated that usually about 10% of re-assessments are challenged but the office hopes that the percentage is lower this time round because values did not rise as substantially as in the last assessment in 2001.

The County Assessor was making a presentation before the Committee indicating the broad results of the property re-assessment. He also explained broadly the methods of valuation. He commented that a sizeable increase in the value of a property did not mean that taxes would go up by a commensurate percentage. The re-assessment was made so that the taxes that need to be raised by the County would be fairly distributed in proportion to the value of properties. This was proscribed by SC Law.

The Assessor would not be draw into much discussion as to what the re-assessments would mean for actual tax payments this year. But generally he thought that only properties that rose in value by about 40% or less would escape an increase. Of course this is even less definite than it looks. The annual tax bill is also shaped by School Taxes and the millage rate here has yet to be determined (We bet tax requirements of County Schools will be up!)

So folk, if you live in North Charleston, Kiawah Island or Mount Pleasant relax, looks like your tax bill will be up only modestly. But if you live in Folly Beach, Sullivan's Island or Isle of Palms, start sweating.

Compassion battles reason - compassion wins, just
The stakes were not large but the discussion was long. At issue was the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for County Council Staff. Wages and salaries for Council staff would normally rise at the beginning of each fiscal year by the increase in the CPI for the region. It rose 3.3% since the last annual adjustment and the County Administrator originally proposed that all employees should receive an increase of 3.3%. He noted that this increase would cost the County $2.7 million a year.

No, said Council member Darby. There are a lot of folk earning low wages, wages on which it is impossible to live. We need to do more for these people. Let's raise the top earnings by a smaller percentage than 3.3% and the lower earnings by a larger percentage.

After considering the impact of various percentage increases, he suggested a 6% increase for all those earning under $25,870 a year and 3% for those above. The cost to the County would be close to that if everybody received the 3.3% increase. We agree, said Council members Pryor and Inabinett.

No said Council members Scott, Fava, and Bostic. It is not that we dispute the existance of injustices in the present pay scale, but we are about to make a study of Staff Compensation. This will be the time to make adjustment for inequities. To attempt to make adjustments through COLA leads to some anomalies and besides, may be considered unjust by those on higher pay scales

Chairman Stavrinakis, at an earlier meeting said he agreed with both sides of the issue but said he was prepared to make a decision favoring lower paid employees on this one occasion. He repeated this at yesterday's meeting.

It was a long discussion and fortunately conducted in good humor with hefty ribs such as "liberal", "conservative", "Democrat" and "Republican" liberally traded. Council member Pryor prodded Council member Wallace to commit himself to an opinion as the Council member was perhaps the only one to remain silent for most of the discussion. He was congratulated on his wisdom of silence but the discussion, as it had been up and down every path, needed to be concluded and his accumulated wisdom was needed. He opted to take a position similar to that of Chairman Stavrinakis.

Council member Darby frustrated at the division that persisted threatened to withdraw his motion and after more discussion that traveled again along paths already traversed, did indeed withdraw his motion.

Council member Pryor rose quickly to propose the same motion that Council member Darby withdrew with the unspoken thought that there was no way he was giving up after such a lengthy debate. And it quickly ended, with silent applause, with a vote that carried the motion.

Committee agrees to G.A.B request
As reported yesterday, the Greenbelts Advisory Board (G.A.B) was to ask the Finance Committee to delay hearings on the retention of a consultant and on the proposed Conservation Bank until the Board could more fully discuss both. The Committee agreed, though seemingly not whole heartedly. It noted that there was some degree of urgency in relation to hiring the consultant to begin work on the Comprehensive Green Belt Plan.

The Committee agreed to defer hearings on both until the next meeting of the Committee, scheduled the day after the next G.A.B. meeting on Wednesday June 15. Whether the G.A.B. at its next meeting will be able to resolve at all of the issues on its agenda relating to the consultant, the proposed Conservation Banl, and its own role, remains to be seen.

Note: The author is a member of the Greenbelts Advisory Board.

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