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Greenbelt Advisory Board March 7

Votes for Urban allocation on the basis of population
Suggests PRC run Urban program, and Greenbelt Bank the rural program
Warwick Jones, Editor One item took up most of the discussion at yesterday's meeting of the Greenbelt Advisory Board. At that was the Greenbelt Program Implementation. The item was on the agenda for the previous meeting. Considering its importance, Greenways Inc., the consultant, was asked to prepare a wider range of options and to think beyond the existing ordinance that loosely defined the GAB's role. After all, the GAB members were being asked to vote on the GAB's future role and the means that funds would be allocated and administered.

After a wide-ranging discussion that also involved County staff and the head of the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC), the GAB came to agreement. But it was not unanimous. The disagreement related only to the way the funds for urban areas were distributed. The GAB's role and the distribution for rural areas were not issues.

Looking for simplicity
Following on the previous meeting, it was a common feeling that the Implementation process should be a simple as possible. For this reason, the entity chosen to administer the rural component of greenbelts (roughly $100 million) was the Greenbelt Bank, created by County Council towards the end of last year. The Bank was designed to play a special financing role in the County greenbelt program. The GAB saw no reason to create another body to run the rural program. Better to allow the Bank to administer all of the funds marked for the rural areas. Applicants for funds would apply to the bank and fulfill its requirements. Funds would be distributed as grants and on the basis of merit, and availability. The GAB would set down the overall policy and would play a role in assuring that its policy was agreed to. The timing of this oversight was not clearly defined in yesterday's meeting.

PRC seen as best for Urban areas
The administration of the urban programs (roughly $40 million) was far more contentious. The Consultant first suggested that County staff be used to administer the funds. But the PRC indicated that it was in a position to do this but if it did so, it wanted the funds parceled out on some sort of formula based on the population of the respective urban areas. Getting the PRC involved in the urban side seemed a good idea. It was a superior means to using County staff with a possible susceptibility to political persuasion, or the Greenbelt Bank that most likely would be preoccupied with rural programs. But the formula or entitlement aspect of the Urban program was what deterred some of us.

A population based formula for distribution?
A population based formula for distribution was necessary to allay the fears of the three major municipalities - the cities of Charleston, North Charleston and the Town of Mount Pleasant, some argued. They contribute a major part of the sales tax funds. It was only fair that they receive a reasonable allocation. If they did not receive a fair share, they were hardly likely to support the sales tax in future or any increase from the present level.

Some mediocre projects could be approved
A distribution on a formula related to population would create problems, some of us said. It would mean that the City of Charleston say, would have a strict entitlement to funds. If it had 25% of the population of the County then it was entitled to 25% of the funds marked for Urban areas. This seemed logical but it would mean that some of the small municipalities could be starved of meaningful amounts to do anything. As well, it could mean that a project that had lots of merit but was in a municipality that had exhausted its entitlement, could languish while a mediocre project in another municipality with an accumulation of funds could be financed.

There was also the issue of where individuals and other private entities stood in such an arrangement. An entitlement program would mean that an application would need the approval of the municipality for it to be successful.

What about the smaller municipalities?
The plight of the unincorporated areas of the County was recognized by all and it was moved to include these areas in the same way as municipalities and that spending would be way of population with the County being their champion. The fear of individuals and other private entities in the urban areas being at the mercy of the municipalities was exaggerated, according to one member. It was highly unlikely that a municipality would turn down a worthy project proposed by an individual. And indeed, applications for finance made to some of the non-profit groups required the endorsement by the municipality.

Entitlement aspect approved
But for a number of us, the entitlement aspect of the program was unappealing. And it was this aspect that caused 5 of us to vote against it. However, with 8 votes for, we lost. Those opposing the entitlement program were Chairman Maybank, Deputy Chairman Canterbury and Board members Johnson, Duggan and myself. Members for the proposal were Thompson, Anderson and Ravenel (members representing the major municipalities) Terebus, Cooper, Bennett, Allen and Schweers.

County will be final arbiter
The decision of the GAB will now go to County Council for consideration. The GAB is only an advisory body and it remains to be seen whether the Council is prepared to accept its recommendation. We don't expect the future role of the GAB to be an issue and expect it will play both an advisory and review role.

However, some of the other recommendations could face questioning. Again, we don't expect the role of the Greenbelt Bank as the manager for rural funds to be a problem. An entity had to be created and it makes sense for the Bank to be that entity. However, the role of the PRC and the entitlement program could raise some eyebrows. The PRC, through its head said that it would be happy to administer the urban program, if there were an entitlements formula. But he also said that if the Council insisted that the PRC administer the funds but under a grants program, he was confident that the PRC would acquiesce. And of course, it is possible that Council for some reason may wish to have Staff administer the Urban program. But we would be surprised.

An executive summary of the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan is being distributed at the Public Hearings this week. Press here here to see the sumnmary.

Warwick Jones is a member of GAB

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