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County Council October 13

Another meeting called to discuss Infrastructure Bank funds
Tardiness on Diversity Policy angering Council members
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

An application to the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) and "diversity" issues dominated discussion at last night's Finance Committee Meeting. And it was clear that some members were unhappy at the course of events.

Before Council was a proposal to seek $720 million from the SIB to fund the completion of I-526 and a road linking the new Port in North Charleston to I-26. The cost of these projects was estimated at $420 million and $300 million respectively. According to both Chairman Stavrinakis and Council Administrator Windham, it was imperative to move quickly with the application. Other counties had plans and the earlier an application was made, the better the chances of procuring funds. The Bank presently had unused funding capacity of about $131 million but a further injection of funds was likely that could make the grant to the County possible. Chairman Stavrinakis also noted that that cost of infrastructure projects was rising and many of the earlier estimates made by the County were way too low.

Council not informed
The first that most of the Council members knew of the SIB application, at least in its final form, was when they read about it in the Post and Courier on Tuesday last. According to the Chairman, the article seemed to present the application as a "done deal". It was not. But he noted that speed was of the essence and that it had involved discussion between him and the mayors of the cities of Charleston and North Charleston, and of the Town of Mount Pleasant.

There was little doubt that the majority of Council members were upset that they had not been more involved. Council member Scott insisted that more time be allowed to study the proposal though he acknowledged that it seemed a good deal for the County. It would secure funds for capital projects amounting to $720 million and save the County $80 million in the process. Chairman Stavrinakis estimated the saving between $80 million and $90 million.

Some unhappy about extending I -526
There were other objections though. Council member Condon noted that a lot of people were unhappy about the extension of I-526 and here the County was going ahead to extend it through James Island. Chairman Stavrinakis challenged her and opined that the majority of folk were for the extension. One might ask what was the purpose of the Public Workshops held this and last week on infrastructure if the Council moves unilaterally to complete the project.

What about residents of some Neck neighborhoods?
Council members Darby and Pryor were concerned about the access road to the proposed port in North Charleston. Where was this road going? Most likely it would go through some depressed African American neighborhoods. Council member Darby noted that too many times had poor neighborhoods been targeted for infrastructure with little regard for the residents.

Chairman Stavrinakis also commented that the money for this access road also included funds for the relocation of I-26 in part of the Neck area of the Peninsula. But the final site of the access road had yet to be determined. Considering the relocation of part of I-26 will benefit the developers of the Neck area more than anybody else, one wonders whether the SIB will countenance the inclusion of this cost within the County's application. After all, SIB funding is supposed to be directed to projects that will benefit the community at large.

Special Finance Meeting called
It was finally resolved that more information would be provided for Council members and that a final debate and vote on the application would be held at a Special Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday night next, before the Council meeting.

Commitments made for other spending
For the record, the application to be submitted to the SIB involved a commitment by the County. Because the SIB looks more favorably on applications when they are made with a commitment of spending of local funds, the County has added commitments on some other but ultimately State funded roads. These were:
• $48 million on bonded projects noted in the sales-tax referendum.
• $50 million over 25 years for resurfacing routes on SCDOT system.
• $256 million for additional improvements and maintenance projects on SCDOT system routes.

These commitments amount to $354 million and would bring total projects funded to $1,074 million. Chairman Stavrinakis noted that there was no mention of specific projects. The County would determine these with input from the usual bodies and the Transport Advisory Board.

Slow progress in defining County's policy on "diversity"
"Diversity initiatives" was well down the schedule for last night's meeting. But diversity issues cropped up a number of times in discussion of other items. Council member Darby asked who was involved in designing the new drainage in the Phillips Community, an African American community that had long been suffering acute drainage problems. The answer was a firm that had a long-standing contract with the County. He questioned the process of bidding for the contract and asked that minority firms be involved in future. Staff indicated, in this case and others, that minority firms had an opportunity to bid. In some cases, none responded. As Council member Darby stated, this might be because of barriers such as bonding.

LPA shoots for 15% going to minorities under its contract
The item following Phillips Community Drainage was a presentation by the LPA Group of progress to date on dispersal of the Transportation sales tax. LPA is the consultant to the County and plays the major management role in spending of the funds. It noted that it would receive $30 million as fees over its 5-year contract. It has set a target of 15% of these funds to be directed to the employment of minorities, including women. It hopes the percentage will reach 18% or beyond. But as Council member Scott noted, it was well and good that LPA has set this target, but more important was the balance of sales tax funds that was directed to Transportation. In total, these funds would amount to about $1.1 billion over 25 years. How could Council be assured that minorities would fully share in this spending? There is no policy in place within the County similar to that implemented by LPA.

Where is the policy statement?
Council member Scott's observation was reiterated in the "diversity initiatives" update, given by Staff. An update was well and good, but where was the policy that Council members had been calling for some months. Chairman Stavrinakis agreed that a policy was needed, for Procurement and Human Resources and was surprised to see the Diversity Update on the agenda. He thought that a policy outline was being prepared by Staff but did not expect to see it on the agenda last night. Council member Darby thought other wise. He said the issue had been before Council too long and strongly requested an outline from Staff for the Council meeting next Tuesday.

County Administrator Windham stated that more time was needed to complete the outline, a view that did not seem shared by many Council members. Council member Scott claimed that the County could draw on policies of a number of other counties or municipalities. Chairman Stavrinakis noted the existence of a scoring system in other communities that could be implemented. Council member Inabinett suggested that the policy wait until the Disparity Study was completed by the consultant and Council member Pryor suggested that another consultant be retained to outline a policy on diversity. Both these ideas went nowhere. Council member Darby offered to sit with Staff and give idea as to what should be incorporated. He also asked that Veterans be included in the County's diversity policy.

Tuesday's Council meeting could be interesting.

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