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County Council December 15

Bond issues approved
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty

If it were not for the half hour break for an executive session, last night's Finance Committee meeting would have been short. There were some important items of the agenda, but all had been discussed in some measure previously and no disagreements were expected over their approval. Possibly the most important item was the issuance of bonds to finance road projects and green belt acquisitions. The bonds were referred to in the half-cent sales tax ordinance, and the interest and amortization will come from the sales-tax proceeds. Last night, the Committee was to approve an issue for $65 million of which $36 million will be for the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) and $29 million for the completion of the Palmetto Commerce Parkway -" acquisition and construction of a road way connecting Ashley Phosphate Road and the Palmetto Parkway through Spartan Boulevard.

The PRC has been attempting to gain access to funds for land purchases for some years now. The sales tax ordinance that was approved by voters in the referendum a year ago has allowed it to do so. The PRC is also anxious to move ahead because land values in the County are rising and acquisitions are becoming increasingly costly.

The Sales tax ordinance specifically referred to $113 million in bonds issuance, and after the $65 million is issued, the County retains the ability to raise another $48 million for construction projects specifically mentioned in the ordinance without going back for voter approval.

Position of Bond Counsel to be put out for bid
Also discussed last night was the retention of a bond counsel. There was some debate as to the past practice of the County, and Staff was asked to clarify the matter. The present counsel will be used for the $65 million issue but it is likely that the position of counsel will be put out for bidding next year. The present counsel has a contract that expires at the end of this year but it will be extended for a short period.

Big chunk out of greenbelt funds
Interest and amortization on the PRC related bonds would take a sizable proportion of the funds available for greenbelt purchases. Until we know the interest rate and term, it is not possible to precisely calculate how much. But over its projected 25-year life, the sales tax is expected to generate $221 million for greenbelts. In present day terms, the value is much less, how much less depending on the discount factor used. Assuming a 5% discount rate, and arguably it could be higher than this, we estimate the present value of the sales tax flow available for greenbelts at $120 million. So in a sense, the $36 million PRC issue is taking about one third of available funds.

Discussion deferred on Francis Marion agreement
The Committee was also to consider the understanding between the County and the municipalities in relation to protection of the Francis Marion Forest. This already has been given a large airing in the press. Discussion was deferred last night to allow the Mayor of Awendaw to voice his comments. He has been reported to have some issues with the understanding.
Charleston Jazz Initiative looks for help
The item that took the most time last night was perhaps the smallest, except to those directly involved of course. The issue was a $5000 grant to Charleston Jazz Initiative (CJI) to enable a group from Charleston to participate at the annual conference of the International Association for Jazz Education in New Your City in mid January. The CJI is a project based at the College of Charleston where it is associated with the School of the Arts. It is also affiliated with the Avery Research Center. "This is an historic opportunity for Charleston County as it is the only time that our area's jazz tradition has been presented at an international gathering of jazz musicians and educators. Funding will help provide round trip air fare, hotel accommodation and subsistence of 11 CJI presenters, musicians, videographer and student assistant - all Charleston County residents", the principals of CJI noted.

Our reading is that the Committee was supportive but was looking at the best or proper way to fund the request. After the executive session, a decision was deferred until the Council meeting on Tuesday evening.

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