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Greenbelt Advisory Board September 20.

PRC's $36 million bond issue approved
GAB to exercise no oversight on spending
Warwick Jones, Editor

The Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) voted today to approve an Ordinance that would allow the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) to move ahead with it $36 million bond issue. The Ordinance would allow a number of other things as well. It was the other things that caused this member of GAB to cast the only dissenting vote for the measure.

No oversight by GAB
The bond issue was discussed at the previous meeting of GAB but debate was deferred to allow members more time to fully consider the proposal. Mr. Tom O'Rourke, the head of the PRC made a presentation to the GAB today urging support for the Ordinance. He noted that the $36 million was in the sales-tax referendum and clearly the PRC was entitled to move on the funds. Nobody disputed this fact. But it was the other items that caused some concern. Mr. O'Rourke wanted to use the funds at the sole discretion of the PRC and with no oversight by the GAB.

Mr. O'Rourke argued that the PRC has noted a number of times in the past about the plan to acquire land for parks and the provision of other services. This was common knowledge and had the approval of Council. The PRC has a broad program in place though there was no commitment at this stage to purchase anything. He noted that the PRC might purchase land for urban and regional parks and for conservation. Also on its list were fishing piers, marinas and boat landings. The Ordinance that was before the GAB last night incorporated the Open Space Analysis and acquisition plans of the PRC into the Greenbelts Plan.

Acquisition targets may not fall into greenbelts definition
This member indicated discomfort with this incorporation. It was not that there was distrust of the PRC or any issue with its Open Space Analysis, a study that summarized the needs of the County. But the GAB is about to hold its hearings as to what sort of green space the public wants and how "greenbelts" would therefore be defined. And here we were allowing the PRC to purchase land that may not fall in the final definition of "greenbelts". Pardon the cliché; it was "the cart before the horse". If we were going to give the PRC approval to possibly act outside the final definition of "greenbelts", what was the purpose of holding public hearings? And although the Council may have "approved" the plans of the PRC in the past, the bond issue that was now being considered was part of the sales-tax referendum. The referendum had been approved and bond issue was part of the sales-tax ordinances. What ever transpired between Council and the PRC was history and had no relevance to the present circumstance.

GAB role is questioned
Mr. O'Rourke made mention of the subordinate role of the GAB - it was responsible to the PRC. It was logical therefore that the PRC should have the ability to decide as to where the bond proceeds should be spent. In a sense, he is right but in the opinion of the writer, the Ordinance that created the GAB is hazy. The superior role of the PRC is recognized but at the same time, it is unarguable that the GAB was set up as an oversight body, to oversee sales tax funding allocated to "greenbelts". If Mr. O'Rourke's argument were accepted, it would suggest that there is no role for the GAB. If the PRC is required to place its recommendations for sales-tax spending before the GAB for consideration, why not the properties acquired from the bond issuance. After all, the bonds are going to be amortized from the sales-tax proceeds.

It should also be noted that the County's legal opinion was that the GAB could consider the Ordinance authorizing the bond issue and vote either way without legal recrimination.

Issue is not the PRC but complying with spirit of the sales tax ordinance
Although Chairman Maybank was courteous to state that my comments captured the heart of the issue, there was little debate amongst members about the Ordinance. Senator Ravenel who spoke glowingly of the PRC and his support for the body politely admonished me. At the risk of sounding repetitive, the competency, objectives and ability of the PRC are not the issues - it is complying with the sales-tax Ordinance and the voters' wishes. And although the County's legal opinion may be correct, we certainly feel the Bond Issue Ordinace as written and approved goes against the sprit of the sales- tax Ordinances.

Most of the other business before the GAB related to the public hearings that begin tomorrow.

Public hearings begin
The first hearing will be at the County Offices at 4045 Bridge View Drive in North Charleston from 2 to 7pm. Members of the GAB and Greenways Inc, the consultant, will be present.

The other two meetings will be held concurrently. One will be at the County Regional Library, 1133 Mathis Ferry Road in Mount Pleasant and the other in the County Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway on Johns Island. Both are on Thursday September 22 and will begin at 2pm extending to 7 pm.

Warwick Jones is a member of the GAB

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