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City Council Meeting February 14

The Mayor lobbies in Columbia
City Hall renovation cost increases again
Marc Knapp

With little discussion of items, no speakers in Citizens Participation, it should have been a short meeting. It wasn't because the Mayor chose to tell Council about his trip to Columbia, from which he just returned, to lobby for a change in the property tax process. What the Mayor said was little different to that in his inaugural speech - municipalities should retain the ability to levy property taxes. However, the millage rate should be rolled back to that extent to make the reassessment neutral in terms of property taxes. The only increase allowed in millage would be that to compensate for inflation. He also said that a 1% sales tax should be instigated to allow for school funding. Attempts to modify the property tax legislation had failed in the past and the Mayor feared that it would fail again. He recognized that his proposal was modest compared with that considered in the legislature, but he felt that a modest change was better than none at all. He also said that a 15% cap on reassessments would not work and would be distorting.

We confess to not being able to follow all of the Mayor's speech or the follow up by Council member Tinkler. But we note that Council member Fishburne warned about the Council taking a vote on this issue as it was the State Government's prerogative. The waving head of City CFO, Mr. Steve Bedard indicated that not all shared Council member Fishburne's concerns.

Council Member Shirley chaired the Ways and Means Committee hearings in the absence of Council member Waring and we confess to enjoying the humor he injected into the proceedings. He complimented Council member Gallant on his outfit - he was sporting a vivid purple shirt and tie - and judged that it looked better on the Council member than it would on him, an opinion not disputed. He also felt that being Valentines Day, some award should be made to one amongst those before him. He chose the Clerk of Council Ms. Turner Maybank for his fictitious award.

City Hall costs rise $450,000
%The item that took most of the time in the general business was that relating to the renovation of City Hall. The contractor reported that the damage to the marble on the exterior of the building was worse than originally thought. Because of the lack of access, it was not possible to fully assess the damage in the original inspections. But now that renovation was under way, a better assessment was possible. The repair and replacement would add $450,000 to the construction budget. The contractor implied that a cheaper repair was possible but that in 5 years, more repair would be necessary to the exterior. What was proposed would ensure no problems with the marble exterior for 15 to 20 years.

The construction budget for City Hall is now $7.53 million, up from the original $6.24 million. Total cost of the project including architect fees, engineering, relocation costs etc is budgeted at $10.2 million. At January 13, 2006, expenditure on the project amounted to $4.46 million.

Call for harsher loitering laws
Probably the most interesting comments came from Council members at the close of yesterday's session. Council member Mitchell commented on the need for harsher loitering laws as a way to control drug dealing on the East and West sides. He asked whether the City could introduce or amend ordinances and whether help could also be sought in Columbia.

Church conversion to theater generates controversy
The Council member also commented that he had been overwhelmed by calls in relation to the proposed sale of the Baptist church in Wraggborough and conversion to a theater. Calls had come "nationwide". He said he could not stop the sale and noted that the BZA meting to consider the change in usage was scheduled for February 21. He expected a large turnout.

Council member Gilliard also commented that the plight of the Baptist church in Wraggborough could be one that would afflict other churches in the City. Nobody wanted the churches to close and congregations to leave. He suggested that the City could perhaps assist in some way.

Need for intra community bus route
Council member Lewis was unrestrained when he commented on his dealings with the Mr. Howard Chapman, the head of CARTA. The Council member lamented that cessation of a bus service within the broad area that encompassed the East and West Side communities. Such a service existed before the cutbacks of recent years because of lack of funding. But it had never been re introduced now that sales tax proceeds were available to CARTA. The communities needed the service, he said. Mr. Chapman seemingly had no sympathy for the idea. He was not taking calls from the Council member or members of the communities the Council member served.

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