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County Council Meeting July 7

Service District's plea rejected without discussion. Diversity issues on hiring moving to resolution
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

The lead item on the agenda at yesterday's meetings promised some excitement. It was a proposal from the James Island Public Service District that sought a moratorium to the issue of all residential building permits for developments in excess of 3 units in the County. The moratorium should remain in effect until revenue from the recently imposed half-cent sales tax is available for transportation improvement and green space acquisition, it said. The request to Council noted amongst other things, the congestion on roads on James Island and elsewhere in the County, and the problems developing for the preservation of wetlands.

We did not expect Council to approve the proposal. But at the least, we expected some discussion. We were disappointed. A proposal was made on opening that the request be denied. The Public Works Committee of Council voted accordingly and unanimously.

Why such an abrupt dismissal? We really don't know but one Council observer opined that the manner of the District or some of its officers was very confrontational rather than remedial. It was the approach to Council that invited an indifferent reaction.

Maybe, But we do have to agree with the Service District that something needs to be done. But it needs all the cities as well as the County to make the effort to better control growth.

Diversity issues over hiring near resolution
It was evident that members were straining themselves when the LPA contract came up for discussion at the Finance Committee meeting. This followed a heated discussion at a meeting last month when some members of the Council questioned the County's policy towards "diversity" in hiring. Council members Darby and Pryor were prominent in the efforts to have the County do more and lamented the Council's tardiness. Council member Darby sought to have the provisions of that contract modified. Council members Scott and Bostic were prominent, though not alone, in seeking the approval of the contract though at the same time, not denying that a policy needed to be determined.

There seems little doubt that the County Administration has attempted to meet the requests of Council and in particularly Council members Darby and Pryor. The latter were conspicuously restrained in their comments last night. Mr. Roland Windham commented that staff had spent some 600 man hours in negotiating provisions of the LPA contract, more than had been spent on any other contract. The company is to be the consultant to the Transportation Advisory Board, and to the the County on transportation matters. At the same time Mr. Windham stated that his staff planned to have a draft ready of a proposed County-hiring policy by next month.

Perhaps mindful of the strong feelings of council members, Mr. Windham asked members to keep confidential the draft of the contract that was submitted to the Finance Committee last night. He did not want the contents to be revealed to the public at this stage because if Council failed to ratify it, competitors would unfairly have access to information. Of course the issue with Council members is not the price but how the contract has been changed in relation to diversity in hiring. If there were still differences, they could be sorted out in an executive session before Council considered the contract next Tuesday evening.

Building permit fees to rise to provide Charleston Housing Trust with $150,000 this year
The Charleston Housing Trust (CHT) was formed, we believe about a year or so largely through efforts of the City of Charleston. The City Housing and Community Development Department told us then that CHT was formed to help raise money for "affordable housing". The State Government effectively launched it with a $1 million one-time grant. The Trust was before the Finance Committee with a request for a grant to further its efforts. It noted that its goal was to finance affordable housing in Charleston County and also Dorchester and Berkeley Counties.

Council Member Fava noted that there had been requests before Council in the past from other bodies that said they represented the three counties. But it was his observation that the other counties made little contribution. Was the situation different at CHT? The CHT did say that most of the expenditure would be in Charleston County.

The request for funds met with general approval and comments about the need for "affordable housing". Council member Inabinett commented about the pressing need in rural communities and how they had been neglected in the past.

Our view is little different from that of the Council but the task before the "affordable housing" providers is formidable. Considering the rising cost of land, it may well be only the rural districts where a meaningful supply of "affordable housing" can be provided. On the Peninsula, the City is providing subsidies of effectively $80,000 or so for single-family affordable housing units. The subsidy may need to be more in future if land costs rise further and the City continues with its programs.

There is not only the issue of costs and affordability, but of funding as well. The major source of funds for " affordable housing" in the past has been CDBG and Home grants from HUD. The Federal Administration is planning on cutting back these grants in future so Federal funds for the CHT and other non-profits will be harder to come by. The City of Charleston has received more grants from HUD than any of the other Cities of the County, or the County itself in the past. In recent years, the grants have amounted to over $2 million a year. With demographics changing in the City, the allocation will likely decline in future, and perhaps rapidly with the cut back in Fed funding.

We don't have a single solution to the need for "affordable housing", but the grant of $150,000 to CHT, sadly, will barely create a ripple in the sea of need.

On the other hand, the response to an increase in building permit fees, estimated roughly at 15% could be much stronger.

The Committee approved the grant and an increase in building fees to raise $150,000 with any amount raised in excess of this to go to the General Fund.

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