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Greenbelts Advisory Board, March 28

Funding for urban greenspace still being debated
GAB needs to have more oversight?
Warwick Jones, Editor

Most of us thought that the contentious issues had been dealt with at the special meeting of the previous day. A discussion of the draft Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan indicated that they weren't. Back before the Greenbelt Advisory Board, (GAB) is the issue of distributing funds to the municipalities and unincorporated areas of the County within the County- defined urban growth boundries.

At the last two meetings, the GAB voted to distribute funds for urban green space on a per capita basis. Municipalities would receive a share of the half-cent sales tax funds earmarked for urban greenspace on the basis of population. Effectively, this meant that if the City of Charleston had say 25% of the population of the County, it would receive 25% of the funds earmarked for urban green space. Although some of us were uneasy about the distribution on a per capita basis, we took no issue with the vote. It was the latitude allowed the municipalities in determining the projects they undertook that became an issue.

Generous action by some members
As a member of the GAB, this writer confesses to some embarrassment. It was clear at Tuesday's meeting that the implications of the vote of the previous meetings were not fully understood. It is some solace to know that other members of the GAB felt similarly. It also is gratifying that some members of the GAB, who are fully in favor of the present position and who could have stopped further discussion of the issue, agreed not to do so. They stated it was better to have clarification and everybody on side with major decisions made by the GAB.

The issue resurfaced as members were browsing the draft of the Greenbelt Comprehensive Plan. The plan was written by Greenways Inc., the consultant, and will be reviewed by GAB before the next meeting. The Plan is also on the County's web site and citizens may comment on it.

Error leads to discussion
For some of us, the red flag was raised when we came to page 5 -10, in the section dealing with Implementation. The page dealt with Urban Grants Program Criteria and the scoring system that would be used in allocating funds. But wait on, said a member. We agreed that the municipalities would choose their own programs. So why do we have a point system? The consultant agreed that it was an error for the chart to be included. The chart had been left over from when the GAB first discussed urban grants, and had not been adopted.

Where is the oversight?
But that raised more questions. We were told that the PRC, which is going to administer urban program, would oversee the projects adopted by the municipalities. These projects would be in line with the criteria defined by the GAB. But what did "in line" mean? The GAB may well have defined a set of questions and scoring for answers relating to these questions. But if the scoring model was not to be used, and there was no scoring hurdle, the phrase "in line" was meaningless. There was no compulsion for municipalities to target quality projects. Theoretically at least, the municipalities could undertake projects that score low on the point system originally devised by the GAB.

Be real said the members representing the Cities
Those members, who represented the Cities, in particular the Cities of Charleston and North Charleston, said be real! There is a very limited amount of funds and the Cities were in no position to squander these funds. They would support only quality projects. After all, they had their own constituents to be concerned about and to which they were accountable

The comments from the City representatives have merit. But for better or worse, the GAB was formed to be an oversight body in the opinion of this member. To allow the municipalities to have "carte blanche" in determining projects for the sales tax financing would be contrary to the spirit of the ordinance that formed the GAB.

PRC will not provide oversight, but should it?
It was also noted that the director of the PRC had said that he was not interested in administering the greenbelt funds for the urban program, if it were not on a per capita basis. Nor was he inclined to administer any points program to determine the projects. Some of us questioned as to whether Mr. O'Rourke could define so emphatically the future responsibilities of the PRC. Wasn't this was more a matter for the Board of the PRC and the County Council? And if it were the GAB's opinion that a point system should be adopted and used by the PRC, shouldn't the GAB express this opinion to the County Council.

Concern about unincorporated areasThe Chairman also expressed some concern about the unincorporated areas of the County. She said that the municipalities had mayors and staff to champion their causes. The unincorporated areas didn't. So why couldn't the County champion the unincorporated areas, it was asked? Unlikely, she said. The set up in the County is quite different from that of the municipalities, and she doubted as to whether the Chairman and members would have the enthusiasm considering their other duties, to champion such causes. There was also discussion as to the possibility of folk in the unincorporated areas, joining with municipalities surround and initiating some projects. Funding could be on a joint basis.

Consultant to provide more analysis
The issue was not resolved at the conclusion of the meeting. The consultant was asked to look at the issue further and come back with a detailed account and explanation of the process proposed for the municipalities. These would be discussed at the next meeting, amended as necessary and voted on.

There were other comments on the Greenbelt Plan, but essentially they were off-the-cuff and minor. Some omissions were noted which will be made good in the next couple of weeks. The consultant also noted that the draft was written before all had been fully decided. Chapter 5 has a number of changes pending. Generally, though, it seems that members thought the report was detailed and visually pleasing. We expect it will stand up well to further and more detailed scrutiny.

Warwick Jones is a member of GAB

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