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County Council Meeting February 2

County deliberates on opposition to port access road
Auditors unqualified opinion on 2005 financial reports
Warwick Jones

Meeting as the Finance Committee, Council discussed the possible impact of an access road from the proposed container port in North Charleston to I 26, and the means to oppose the road. Council member Darby raised the issue at the meeting and spoke of the impact the road would have on the communities abutting the new port. The communities, essentially African American, fall largely in his electorate. He noted that the communities were split when I 26 was first built. He felt that the access road would have a similar adverse impact and was opposed to any of the access roads that had been studied by the Army Corps of Engineers. And he asked for Council's support to oppose them and by any means possible including Court action and seeking Federal help.

The proposed container port is to be located in North Charleston on part of the old Navy Base. The States Port Authority (SPA), as part of the process, has sought a permit and the Corps has made a study of the impact. Access roads, which fall under the provenance of the SC Department of Transport (DOT), also require a permit and study by the Corps. These studies have been completed. The 740-page report of the Corps can be viewed at porteis.com. by pressing here . The report suggests 5 possible access roads and their location can be seen by pressing Download file. The Corps opined that road 1c caused the least impact to the communities.

Council member Darby did not agree with the Corps. All the proposed roads were harmful but thought Road 1a was the least so. But in his opinion, if the Port had to be built and an access road provided, it was better the access be much further to the north of those routes already considered. He also noted that access to the Port would also planned from Spruill Avenue. This access road was for workers and other non-container bearing traffic. The existing road was to be widened over part of its length. The Councilmember feared considerable disruption to the community from this access too.

Members were generally sympathetic to Council member Darby's concerns. Two members noted that they thought the port would be built whatever the concerns might be of Council, though this was a reflection more of the limited power wielded by the Council in the matter rather that a conviction that the port should be built at the proposed site. County Attorney Dawson stated that the report of the Corps could be challenged. But to challenge either the DOT or the SPA would be difficult.

It was agreed that Council should express its concern and a letter be drafted to the Corps of Engineers. Chairman Stavrinakis also was to contact the appropriate persons in the SPA and DOT to express the concerns. The matter is to be discussed again by Council on Tuesday evening when more positive action will be defined and voted on. The Council at that time will be better armed with facts as to the impact on the communities, and with a suggestion for an access road route that has not been considered by the Corps.

Financial reports unqualified
There were lengthy presentations by the auditors with the release of the Fiscal 2005 accounts. We have not studied the accounts but don't expect any surprises. But we should note that the external auditor approved the accounts without qualification. This means that it found no discrepancies. The auditor did note that there were four "reportable" items that occurred in some of the County agencies. These items related to procedures that were in breach of Federal or State regulations. Again, we don't pretend to understand quite what occurred but from the Auditor's description, they were not serious - oversight rather than mal - intentioned.

Presumably because of some perceived weakness in procedures, the external auditor recommended that Council give more attention to cash collection and the segregation of duties. It should also improve network security such as ensuring the removal of names and authority for people who have resigned or retired from Country employ. It also recommended that the audit committee meet at least 4 times a year.

Pay increases could be costly
Council was also informed that the Compensation Study was drawing near to completion with data collected from about 22 counties in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina. The result of the study would be available by February 25. But Council was warned that most likely an adjustment of County wages and salaries to a median level of all the Counties would be costly and amount to several million dollars. Council member Scott noted with the budget time looming again, some belt tightening may be necessary.

Electronic monitoring rejected
Council also heard a recommendation by staff that the electronic monitoring system that had been proposed last year not be introduced. It was originally proposed to enable the authorities to monitor the location of parolees and others. It was not that electronic monitoring was ineffective - it was just too costly. The small number of people - about 32 presently - that would qualify for monitoring did not justify the outlay. Chairman Stavrinakis expressed disappointment with the recommendation though did not argue for electronic monitoring, presumably because he recognized the disproportional cost. With the note that there were a number of other solutions to ease jail pressure, Council voted to accept Staff's recommendation and not proceed with the Request for Proposals.

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