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Greenbelt Advisory Board February 8

Settles on Prioritization Criteria
Considers Bond issue options
Warwick Jones, Editor

There were two matters decided yesterday of importance. First was the prioritization criteria and point allocation for greenbelt projects. The other was to defer to the next meeting some important decision relating to the future role of the Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB), bond issues secured over future sales tax flows, and the scope for municipalities to rank projects. In anticipation of lengthy debate, the starting time for the meeting on February 21 is 2pm, not 3pm as is usual.

The Prioritization Criteria approved by the GAB is shown below. There was not a great deal of discussion as much had ensued in the previous meeting. It was suggested that there should be greater weighting in Rural Landscapes for public access and for public support. There was some sympathy for this opinion but most members probably felt that such a list was subjective and not everybody would be totally happy with the weightings. As one GAB member said at a previous meeting, the value of a project usually shone through whatever way the weightings were tweaked. So maybe we should not spend too much time is attempting to refine it. Recognizing this but also perhaps the discomfit of board members with their experience, it was agreed to review the criteria in 12 months time.

Prioritization Criteria

RURAL LANDSCAPES
Tell Us About the Project 30 Points

What are the distinguishing characteristics - 10 points
Where is it located and what is the size of the project - 5 points
How will the project address public access and use - 5 points
How will the project be managed 5 - points
Is the project ready for immediate action - 5 points
What Makes the Project Special 35 Points
What are the environmental features - 10 points
What are the historical and cultural features - 10 points
How is Quality of Life addressed - 5 points
What are the linkage opportunities - 5 points
Is the project consistent with adopted plans - 5 points
How Can We Make the Project Work 35 Points
Describe the funding and leveraging for the project - 15 points
Who are the financial partners for the project - 5 points
What is the level of public support - 5 points
Who are the non-financial partners for the project - 5 points
Describe the how the project will be implemented - 5 points
Total Possible Points 100 Points

URBAN LANDSCAPES
Tell Us About the Project 30 Points

What are the distinguishing characteristics - 10 points
Where is it located and what is the size of the project - 5 points
How will the project address public access and use - 5 points
How will the project be managed - 5 points
Is the project ready for immediate action - 5 points
What Makes the Project Special 40 Points
What are the environmental features - 10 points
What are the historical and cultural features - 10 points
How is Quality of Life addressed - 10 points
What are the linkage opportunities - 5 points
Is the project consistent with adopted plans - 5 points
How Can We Make the Project Work 30 Points
Describe the funding and leveraging for the project - 10 points
Who are the financial partners for the project - 5 points
What is the level of public support - 5 points
Who are the non-financial partners for the project - 5 points
Describe how the project will be implemented - 5 points
Total Possible Points 100 Points

For interest sake, Mr, Chuck Flink, principal of Greenways Inc, made an evaluation of the Morris Island preservation project. It scored 93 points making it a very desirable project. He awarded it full marks in all categories except Public Access and Use, Linkage Opportunities, and Project Implementation. He argued that it was "out of the way', not linked to other greenbelts and still dependent on the raising of $4.5 million in funding. Like we said, it is all very subjective.

Bond options
As a prelude for discussion at the next meeting, Mr. Dan Pennick of County Planning gave some projections as to some possible options for raising cash from bond issues secured by future sales tax flows. A bond issue would allow access to more funds immediately and financing for projects would not need to wait for the accumulation of a meaningful amount of sales tax funds over the years. The discussions were preceded by comments from attorneys retained by the County who spoke on some legal issues. Mr. Pennick noted that although the Sales tax would raise $221 million over its life, the amount raised in a bond issue would be considerably less. One had to subtract the monies set aside for the Parks and Recreation Commission, administration of the Greenbelt program, and for the Conservation Bank, the latter possibly requiring $10 million in 2007. Netting these out, Mr. Pennick calculated that the County could raise $86.2 million next year if it wished to utilize to the full the available sales tax proceeds. The estimate was predicated on a 5% annual coupon. Possibly, not all the funds should be raised immediately and maybe there should be two tranches, $49.5 million in 2007 and $43.8 million in 2011. He also gave another option with perhaps three tranches.

However there was a warning. The interest on the bonds would have federal tax benefits for investors and to retain the benefits, the funds must be spent in 3 years. So if there were no immediate solid raft of projects, better to have at least 2 tranches.

Limitations to issuance
Mr. Charlton de Saussure of Haynsworth Sinkler and Boyd also stated although the interest and amortization of the bonds would come from the sales tax, they would be classified as General Obligation bonds. Consequently, there was a limitation as to how much the County or Cities could issue without seeking voter approval. The SC law states that the Counties and municipalities can issue up to the equivalent of 8% of the value of assessable properties within their jurisdiction without going to voters for approval. The County, with bond issues under consideration to finance the new jail and proposed communication projects was not in a position to fund bonds under the 8% limitation. It would have to go for voter approval.

Cities better placed to issue GO Bonds
It seems that the major cities of the County are in a better position to issues bonds under the 8% limitation and without necessarily going to voters. However, would they be prepared to make a bond issue "secured" by the sales tax flow? This question was left open and Mr. de Saussure stated that an agreement of the County to pass on sales tax proceeds for interest and amortization of these bonds was more than a handshake but less that a contractual agreement. And besides, it is possible that the County may not wish to proceed with such an arrangement.

Some goals set for consideration
In the closing stages of the meeting, Mr. Flink asked the GAB members to consider some targets levels for acquisitions. He recommended that the County set a goal of 30% of the County's land area be conserved. Presently about 160,000 acres are under some form of conservation so the target he sets for 2031 would require the addition of another 40,000 acres. He also set targets within this broad category for Rural Greenbelts, the Francis Marion Forest, Lowcountry Wetlands, PRC regional parks, Urban Greenbelt land, and Greenway Corridors. He also suggested that a target of 200 miles of bicycle, pedestrian and greenway trails be achieved by the year 2031.

These targets will be discussed at the next meeting as well as those items mentioned previously. Also scheduled for discussion will be the first 4 chapters of the Greenbelt Comprehensive Plan.

Warwick Jones is a member of GAB

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