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Greenbelt Advisory Board February 21

Recommends a bond issue as soon as possible
To discuss Greenbelt process and GAB's future role at next meeting
Warwick Jones, Editor

The Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) will ask County Council to consider a referendum to approve bond issues to assist funding of greenbelt projects. The interest and amortization of the bonds would be met from the proceeds of the half-cent sales tax. The decision follows presentations at the last two meetings by staff, attorneys and the consultant.

Mr. Chuck Flink, a principal of the greenbelt consultant Greenways Inc, submitted two groups of options to the GAB. The first included options related to bonds issues only by the County. The second group included options where municipalities also issued bonds. The consultant recommended that the GAB choose the option from the first group which involved a referendum in November or a soon as practical, asking for approval of a bond issue with two tranches. The first tranche, in 2007, would have a principal amount of about $49.6 million and the second tranche in 2011, a principal amount of $43.8 million. The principal amounts stipulated were essentially estimates; the actual amounts would depend on interest rates and needs largely. The key determinant of the total principal amount was what was left of the sales tax proceeds after the deduction of that which would flow to fund the bonds issued by Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC), an allocation to the Conservation Bank, and other expenses related to Greenbelts. The Consultant estimated about $140 million was left from the total $221 million in sales tax proceeds expected to be collected over the life of the sales tax and earmarked for greenbelts. The $140 million would be available to fund interest and bond amortization.

Decides for two tranches
As stated in the previous meeting, a number of options were before the County. The County could do nothing and just spend sales tax proceeds as collected. But this would mean that some time would have to pass before a meaningful amount of money was collected. Over this period, a number of opportunities could be missed. Or the County could go to the bond market and raise funds immediately. It could seek the maximum estimated amount possible of about $87 million in 2007, but it may be impossible to dispose of all the funds within 3 years. The interest on the bonds is free of federal tax in the hands of investors. For this reason, the Federal authorities impose conditions on the issuance and one of the conditions is that the funds must be dispersed within three years. If not, the County could be up for a penalty. The GAB was advised that perhaps it would therefore be better to have two tranches, one immediately and one a few years later.

The GAB went along with this though declined to set amounts for either tranche. These should be determined later with better knowledge about the demand for funds and the level of interest rates.

What should be the GAB's future role?
The GAB also attempted to address another important issue yesterday - its future role and the broad relationship of the entities that are part of the greenbelt process in the County. However, a decision was deferred until the next meeting, not because of dissention amongst members but of the importance and the need to discuss a wider range of possibilities.

The GAB had before it two options that had been devised by the consultant after it studied the Ordinance that related to the sales tax and the creation of the GAB. The consultant confessed that the ordinance was not very defining and that the options represented an attempt to fit within the ordinances.

Structure of process was too complicated
The result was something very complicated in the opinion of most members. The role of the GAB was not clear. In one option, the GAB would be given perhaps only a yearly review but in another, more frequent reviews. Other comments sought to have the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) more involved in the process, or the Conservation Bank.

Look for something simpler
One member reminded the GAB that Council Chairman Stavrinakis at the first or second meeting of the GAB said that Council was looking to the GAB for guidance in dealing with greenbelts. Maybe the GAB should start with a fresh slate and devise something simple, straightforward and sensible, without the convolutions of the options shown by the Consultant? The ordinance creating the GAB (and the Transportation Advisory Board) was open to wide interpretation. Why not then attempt to do the right thing in designing a structure to deal with greenbelts funding, approvals and administration? Maybe the PRC was presently reluctant to play a wider role in the administration of funds but isn't it up to Council to decide the PRC's role? Again, maybe the Conservation Bank was originally designed to play only a financing role but could it not be melded into a shape to serve a wider function? The Bank was the baby of Council member Bostic and the GAB sought to have him involved in the discussion yesterday. But there is nothing in his public comments of which we are aware that would suggest hostility to a wider role for the Bank.

Decision is highly important
So the consultant has that unenviable task, yet again, of attempting to find order in the chaos of remarks made by members. As he has done before, a wider range of options will be prepared, and these will be considered at the next meeting. These options will probably get a closer scrutiny that most other items that have been before the GAB. A decision will be part of the important step in attempting to define and streamline the essential process for greenbelt funding and administration. Members of the GAB recognize this. It is possible that none of the options devised by the Consultant will be acceptable to the GAB at its next meeting. But almost certainly, it will be closer to determining a workable process and its own role that it can recommend to Council.

Workshop dates for Comprehensive Plan discussion
The public will have four opportunities between March 6 and March 9 to hear and comment on the draft Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan, which will be presented by the Charleston County's consultant, Greenways Incorporated. The public workshops will be held at 5:30 p.m. on: Monday, March 6 at the John's Island Library (3531 Maybank Highway) Tuesday, March 7 at the Charleston Museum (360 Meeting Street) Wednesday, March 8 at the Lonnie Hamilton, III Public Services Building (4045 Bridge View Drive, off Leeds Avenue in North Charleston) Thursday, March 9 at the Mount Pleasant Library (1133 Mathis Ferry Drive)

Warwick Jones is a member of the GAB