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County Council March 16

To patch up rift with TAB
Stormwater fee to be introduced, mid-year budget review
Warwick Jones

The most interesting item on last night's agenda promised to be the "Transportation Plan". We and others thought there would be a spirited discussion about the role of Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) in forming the Comprehensive Transportation Plan. This did not occur. Before any discussion took place, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Council planned to meet with members of the TAB to sort out any possible differences. However, it was clear at last night's meeting that newspaper and other reports on the last TAB meeting had placed the County in unfavorable light. County Administrator, Roland Windham, apologized to Council for the remarks made by a member of Staff. Staff had not given the right advice to the TAB, he said.

At last week's meeting of the TAB, a member of County staff indicated that no changes would be made to the Comprehensive Transportation Plan. The plan as published, was to be submitted to Council. As well, the spokesman indicated that there would be no inclusion of a 25-year forecast of needs and other items in the Plan. The views expressed by the County representative generated considerable ire and prompted questions about the TAB's role. In response to a report in the Post and Courier, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Council wrote to the newspaper indicating their support for the TAB.

Our view is that the matter has been blown out of proportion. It is probable, that all the requests of the TAB will not be met but many will and that County Council will hear its voice. But it did no harm for the issue to be raised. It puts Council on notice that the public is watching.

Ordinance for right-of-way acquisitions to be considered
And while we are discussing transportation, the matter of right-of-way acquisition came before Council last night. Roadwise that manages the sales tax spending on transportation took the first steps in defining a procedure for right-of-way acquisition in relation to road construction. It made recommendations that it submitted to Council for consideration. Amongst other things, it was looking to be able to acquire properties for less than $20,000 without the need for appraisal. Roadwise expects that it will need to negotiate many right-of-way acquisitions and had drafted an ordinance for Council's consideration.

Federal mandate leads to new fee for unincorporated areas
It looks as though residents in unincorporated areas will be hit with a new fee. It relates to storm water drainage. Council was not happy about imposing the fee, but it did not have much choice. It was reacting to a Federal mandate. The fee will amount to $36 per residential unit and should generate about $2.3 million annually but only about $200,000 in fiscal 2006.

Council was told that the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) requires the County to "develop, implement and enforce a storm water program to reduce the discharge of pollutants from its storm drainage system beginning March 1, 2006 as prescribed by federal regulations" It includes six minimum control measures.

• The illicit discharge detection of elimination.
• Construction site storm water runoff control.
• Post-construction storm water management.
• Pollution prevention.
• Public education and outreach.
• Public involvement and participation.

Initially, three full-time employees will be needed to launch the program. Significant staff will be required in years to come. Noncompliance can result in substantial penalties of over $27,000 a day.

Councilmember Fava registered his disapproval and noted the number of "doughnut holes" in the County that made efficient implementation almost impossible. He was referring to the number of municipalities that also were obliged to provide a similar service. However, it seems the County has no alternative and must press on with the plan. Councilmember Fava made the motion to proceed with another Councilmember noting mockingly that he could afford to make this motion as he was not running for re-election. Chairman Stavrinakis seconded the motion, a council member who also not running again. The measure was passed.

Mid year budget review and Judicial Center repair costs
As is typical at this time of the year, Staff undertook a midyear review of budget spending. Generally, the matters reviewed were not major. But they drew comment from Councilmember Fava in that there were more this year than any other year in his experience. This was endorsed by Staff and drew comment as to what might be expected in the budget discussions for fiscal 2007, to begin shortly. It was noted that the County had been able to avoid an increase in property taxes for some years. But restraining taxes was becoming very difficult. Clearly, residents of the County should be prepared do see some increase in property taxes in the coming fiscal year.

Of the items up for budget review, that relating to the Judicial Center generated the most discussion. The specific item was the approval the reprogramming of $340,000 within the capital projects funds for consulting and legal costs. The Judicial Center was completed two years or so ago and has been plagued with problems, in particular mold and water damage. It seems that the mold problems have been corrected, though repairs are still necessary in relation to some of the masonry work on the exterior. The County hopes to recover the repair costs and is taking steps to do so. Staff also said that there might be more costs involved in repairing the building.

Councilmember Darby wasn't happy with the progress of repairs. Out of consideration of the judges and legal personnel, he wanted repairs to be completed as soon as possible and asked for this to be expedited.

County takes steps for tsunami preparedness
Residents of the County may be pleased to know that there's little chance of them being hit by a tsunami. But if it happens, it could be devastating. The County is now preparing readiness plans. At the briefing yesterday, Council was told of the plans to create a 300-foot danger zone along the beach and waterfronts. This essentially would be an evacuation zone. But it may not be wide enough. Depending on the strength of tsunami, water could push further inland but the 300-foot zone was a beginning. It was possible that waves from a tsunami could reach inland half a mile or so.

The likely trouble spots for Carolina were the Azores and the Puerto Rican trench. The earthquake zone in the Azores could possibly have the most impact and an earthquake there of magnitude 7 or more on the Richter scale, could generate waves 6 to 10 feet higher than normal. These would take seven or eight hours to reach the Carolina shores but the shallow depths will slow the waves down to about 30 miles an hour from 400 to 500 miles an hour. Although not mentioned in the talk yesterday, South Carolina has not been impacted by tsunami in the hundreds of years since Europeans have settled it.

The Puerto Rican trench is much closer to the US, but the fault line that would generate an earthquake trends east-west. Consequently, any tsunami that is generated will travel northwards. And the impact on the South Carolina coast would not be great.

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