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County Council June 15

Council uneasily decides on interim administrator
A glance at needs of James Island township
Warwick Jones

Clearly, there were divisions amongst Council members at last night's meeting of the Finance Committee. At issue was the appointment of an interim Administrator. Some members thought that Staff, under the guidance of Deputy Chief Administrator Keith Bustraan, was capable of managing the County, but others thought that Mr. Mack Canterbury, who retired from the County three years or so ago, should be appointed. Ultimately, the committee voted to begin negotiations with Mr. Canterbury.

Heat in debate
There was heat in the discussion amongst committee members before the vote. It probably carried over from the executive session just prior to the vote where the appointment of an interim administrator was one of the two items discussed. Chairman Stavrinakis spoke highly of the ability of staff, and Mr. Bustraan in particular. He noted that Mr. Bustraan had acted very honorably and in a dignified way during the deliberations and had put the interest of Council ahead of his own. Council members Fava, Bostic, Condon, Inabinett and McKeown also spoke favorably about the performance of staff and Mr Bustraan.

Chairman states issue not handled well
Chairman Stavrinakis however, commented that some members had not handled the issue well. He hoped in future that Council would act as a group and not as individuals. He said that he would vote for Mr. Canterbury but not without some dissatisfaction. Council member Pryor took issue with him. He said Council members had not done anything bad. If he were unhappy about the performance of some individuals, then he should say so and name the individuals. Chairman Stavrinakis said he would be prepared to do so, but didn't.

Compromise amongst members?
With most of the discussions relating to the appointment occurring in executive sessions, we do not know what influenced members in their decisions and deliberations. We know that the present Chief Administrator, Mr Roland Windham, accelerated his retirement plans because of differences with some Council members. These differences could have played a role in the choice of an interim Administrator. Most likely Mr Bustraan was seen by some Council members to be too close to Mr. Windham and formed from a similar mold. But it's our perception that the vote was very much a compromise amongst members and a desire to move forward. For most of the members, it was not a vote against Mr Bustraan. Council member Fava voted against the appointment of Mr, Canterbury. But as he indicated earlier, this did not reflect his opinion of Mr. Canterbury, who he held in high esteem.

Town of James Island could cost County $1 million a year in lost revenue

Probably more than anything else, the likely formation of the Town of James Island prompted a discussion of governmental consolidation. With the potential population of around 20,000, the new township will be the fourth-largest in the County, behind Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant, but will be well ahead of such municipalities as Sullivan's Island, Folly Beach, and of course the much smaller municipalities as Hollywood, Megget and Ravenel for example. In his presentation, Deputy Chief Administrator Keith Bustraan said that the major municipalities provided a large number of services. The smaller municipalities provided few and relied on the provision by the County. James Island indicated that it would be looking to the County to provide a range of services. He noted that County policy was to provide an array of basic services, as requested, to any municipality. He said it also was the perception that the prospective town of James Island will request services that the County does not provide to large municipalities.

An attempt to have uniform charges
No commitment was made by the County for the provision of any service but the discussion of Council indicated a need to prepare for requests. Mr. Bustraan noted the services provided by the County to the municipalities include public works, building enforcement and licensing, planning, and law-enforcement. There was discussion of charges that were made to the municipalities and a request that they be made uniform. Council member Scott noted this was an easy thing to say but often a difficult thing to implement. There was not uniform use of certain services amongst municipalities.

James Island theoretical tax and fee revenue about $2.4 million in 2004
We found interesting the calculation made by County staff of what they described as the "James Island Revenue Impact in 2004". Staff calculated that the new town theoretically would've received $2.4 million in 2004 from its share of the local option sales tax and other fees levied by municipalities and the County. Most likely revenue in 2007 would be 10% higher than $2.4 million. Mr Bustraan also noted James Island's gain would be the loss to the County and other municipalities. Staff estimated that in 2004 Charleston County derived $870,000 in revenue from the residents of the proposed James island Township, and could be close to $ 1 million now. This revenue would be lost in future and the implication clearly was that James Island would have to pay for the services that the County rendered. Also of interest was the estimated $600,000 revenue loss by the City of Charelston.

Consolidation of services
The discussion then swung to other services that could be consolidated within the County, in particular, emergency dispatch services. Presently there are 10 emergency dispatch centers throughout the County, many of which are operated by the cities. For a number of reasons, not least of all was improved operational efficiency, there is a move to consolidate these services and to have only one call center.

Could consolidation be applied to other services? The answer seemed to be yes. Some members noted that fire prevention services had been consolidated in municipalities and maybe such consolidation could be Countywide. But as staff noted, there is sometimes a reluctance of municipalities to give up responsibility. The message was to look for consolidation where possible, but move slowly and cautiously.

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