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Greenbelts Advisory Board - December 6

Council member Bostic agrees to new clause in Conservation Bank ordinance
Warwick Jones

Privately, a member of the Greenbelts Advisory Board (GAB) told me that I took it all too seriously. "It was all part of the process of getting things done". He was responding to my question as to why others on the GAB were not annoyed about the recent comments and attitude of Council member Bostic. I was, and indicated it.

The issue was the proposed Conservation Bank, the ordinance of which is making its way through Council. The GAB's attitude to the bank can be gauged by reference to past comments on this site. But suffice to say, the GAB was not opposed to the Bank but concerned about some aspects of the ordinance, and had asked that a decision on its formation be delayed until the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan has been determined. This latter request was ignored by Council though a number of members voted against the ordinance in earlier hearings.

GAB is not a "team player"
Yesterday, the GAB considered the insertion of a clause into the Conservation Bank ordinance which in the view of this member of the GAB will go part of the way in rectifying the deficiencies. Others on the Board thought it would go much further. But it was not this clause that was offending. It was the comments made by Council member Bostic to both the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the GAB. Council member Bostic claimed that the GAB was not a "team player", that the GAB has resisted the idea of a bank because of power and control. He would accept the amendment proposed by the Chairman if the GAB became a "team player".

Team player? The GAB was brought into being by Council and in an ordinance related to the half cent sales tax. It was an oversight body, and some members of the Board had concern about his proposed Conservation Bank. Considering its designated role, why shouldn't the GAB express its concerns? Some members of Council also had similar concerns. Because these reservations are expressed, we are not team players? Did Council member Bostic approach Council members Fava and Inabinett and tell them by not accepting fully his proposed bank ordinance, they were not "team players"? We doubt it.

Clause inserted to recognize Comprehensive Plan
Both the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the GAB were unhappy with what Council member Bostic said and attempted to refute his allegations. But in the interests of harmony, the Chairman suggested that we submit the following paragraph for insertion into the Bank ordinance and move on. One of us would have liked more time to consider the wording but notwithstanding, the recommendation was duly approved by the GAB.

The submission to Council was as follows:
The Greenbelt Advisory Board proposed adding item #13 under section 4 D which states "For Purposes of this ordinance, conservation criteria include:
(13) The value of the proposal as it relates to the Comprehensive Greenbelts Plan as approved by the PRC and the Charleston County, including the Greenbelts Map, Greenbelts Criteria and Greenbelts Priorities.

The clause was inserted into the Conservation Bank Ordinance and the Council latter in the night passed it on the second reading. Council member Fava also added an amendment that has the Bank being staffed by County up until such time that the Council felt that it should be staffed by others, or words to that effect.

Some amendments to Bank ordinance that should be considered
This writer seems to be the only person left who, publicly at least, feels that ambiguities remain in the relation between the PRC, the Council, the GAB and the Conservation Bank. There also are omissions from the Conservation Bank ordinance that were drawn to the attention of the GAB at yesterday's meeting. As the Conservation Bank ordinance was molded on that of the SC Conservation Bank, we asked why certain paragraphs from the latter ordinance were not included. The ordinance of the State bank states that at least 10% of funds are allocated for purchase of land which allows public access. It also states that management and development expenses of acquired properties or rights cannot be financed by Bank funds. As Council member Bostic has lauded the SC State Bank and has confessed to "stealing" much of the wording for the Conservation Bank, it seems legitimate to ask why these paragraphs were not included. Two members of the GAB who are familiar with SC Conservation Bank registered surprise that the clauses were omitted. They said they would support their inclusion. However no vote was proposed as the issue could be addressed later.

Moving along with formulating Greenbelt Plan
Much of the balance of yesterday's meeting was taken up again with beating the path towards formulating the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan. Led by the Mr. Charles Flink of the consultant Greenways Inc, we revisited the definitions of Rural and Urban areas in the County and then discussed how funds should be allocated to the two broad categories. But first we addressed an issue that was left over from the previous meeting.

Resolution of issue with cities
Many of the GAB members felt that greenbelt funds should be used only for acquisition of land or development rights. Members representing the Cities felt that this was too restrictive and the Chairman asked that they consider for a week and come up with a suggestion as to wording. Council member Thompson representing the City of Charleston and after discussion with a representative of Mount Pleasant came up with an acceptable paragraph. It stated that the development or improvement of acquired sites would be handled by the municipalities. And funding beyond purchase would be minimal and tightly defined. It was included to provide minimal access improvements for the public's prompt use of the acquired site. The cost of these improvements would be included in any submission. The insertion of the paragraph was approved with only the representative of North Charleston voting against it.

Sales tax monies to be split 70% rural, 30% urban
Then we started to really break ground. How were the sales tax monies to be split between Rural and Urban categories? Mr. Flink gave us some criteria on which to make a decision - population densities throughout the County - 9% rural, 91% urban - sales tax receipts, 25% rural, 75% urban - geographic size - 76% rural 24% urban, distribution of registered voters, 25% rural , 75% urban. From this array he came up with a suggestion of 70% rural and 30% urban. This was not a ratio that was determined precisely and indeed it was only a suggestion, but it was a figure that was close to a ratio adopted by other municipalities and counties throughout the nation. It was also influenced by the public comments at the recent hearings.

What about spending on items that were common to both categories?
But the determination of the right ratio was complicated by another factor. What about expenditures that rightly fell into both categories? For example, walkways and bike paths were among the top priorities of citizens as expressed at the public hearings. These would be through both rural and urban areas.

Some members were uneasy with the ratios. Some wanted more that 70% for rural areas, some less. But the Chairman reminded us that this was not going to be a decision "written in stone" and that the ratios could be modified in the light of more discussion and another round of public hearings. The arguments "for" and "against" were predictable. The rural environment was disappearing and in desperate need of preservation. It needed most of the funds. But the cities provided most of the money and there was a need for more urban greenspace.

The next meeting will be taken up with discussion of how the funds will be allocated within the rural and urban categories with members sent away with a list of possibilities to dwell on and the promise of more information on which to do homework

Whatever the cut, funds are limited
But as some members suggested after the address by the County Comptroller, what ever way the funds were cut, there was really not much money to do anything. Some of the figures the Comptroller submitted were subsequently disputed but it seems that after the subtraction of interest and amortization of the $36 million bonds to be issued by the PRC, there would be only about $4.5 million a year in sales tax funds in the early years for greenbelt acquisitions. Substantial funds were needed now, for action before land prices edged even higher. Could the County float a bond to raise a substantial amount, say $50 to $60 million, to be financed by the balance of sales tax revenues? Possibly, but this may require another referendum. The County had utilized much of its ability to float bonds under SC legislation. It could raise that amount up to 8% of the value of taxable properties without going to voters for approval. With the possibility of some changes to property tax law, the Comptroller would not recommend that the County go up to its limit of 8%. If the GAB thought a bond was a good idea then he would suggest a referendum.

Warwick Jones is a member of the GAB

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