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Public Services - a question of fairness and perceived Value
Lee Walton

Over the past several weeks there has been considerable debate on Charleston County Council about the levels and types of public services that the County should provide to municipalities of varying sizes throughout the County. Although this most recent debate had its genesis in the recent re-incorporation of the Town of James Island, the basic argument has its roots in decades of political infighting between the City of Charleston and the James Island Public Service District.

The JIPSD continues to thrive and survives, much to the chagrin of its arch nemeis, Mayor J. Pericles Riley. Many residents within its jurisdiction simply do not want to be citizens of the City, or for many, to have anything to do with Pericles or pay for his shining Acropolis. They formed their own town three times in acts of persistent defiance and in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds against the false piety and judgmental actions of an equally persistent Pericles.

From the early federalist perspective of our Nation's founders, one of the basic tenets of local government was the obligation to provide only the levels of public services for which the citizens were willing to be fairly taxed. It's still a sound economic doctrine we utilize everyday - the concept of perceived value. When we purchase a service or product, our satisfaction with the product or service received is balanced against what we paid for it. Was dinner in one of Charleston's finer restaurants worth the experience, ambiance, service and food quality? Did the paint from the hardware store live up to the salesperson's recommendation, or did we feel ripped off when it took three coats to cover junior's handprints in the hallway? Consciously or not, all consumers make value judgments each time they make a purchase; it's the motivating force of free enterprise - if we had a bad experience, we'll spend our hard-earned dollars elsewhere.

The current argument about the various levels of county police protection provided to all municipalities is a two-edged sword and an example of perceived value. All property owners within the County of Charleston pay the same County taxes, regardless of whether they live on unincorporated Edisto Island or in the Old Village of Mt. Pleasant; arguably, each should be provided the same level of County public service. If the citizens of a town or new city are satisfied with the basic countywide level of police protection and wish not to pay more than that already paid in county taxes, then they should be allowed to receive the basic level of police protection for which they already pay for in countywide property taxes.

If the citizens of a city or town desire or need more than the basic level of protection currently provided by the County Sheriff's Department, then they can tax themselves more for the higher level of protection whether provided by the Sheriff's Department of their own police force. But, and here's the other edge of that same sword, if a city or town decides to, or is forced to provide its own police protection or pay twice for the same basic countywide level of protection, its citizens should not be double taxed by the County for services paid for but not provided. Yes! This principle should also apply to the big cities too - it's basic fairness and equity.

Historically, albeit not too lately, Pericles would wail about the inequities of "duplication of services", "double taxation" and "division of assets" each time the JIPSD would challenge a covey of properties snatched by Periclesin one of his frequent annexation raids across the Ashley. At other times County Council, often joined by Pericles, would argue against the incorporation or growth of one of the smaller "paper towns" that now proliferate throughout Charleston County. Each time the bigger cities and County would cry foul, because of their loss of sales tax revenues and state revenue sharing funds received by all municipalities within the County, regardless of size. For example, the new Town of James Island is projected to receive $3.5 million its first year from these sources just by incorporating. Pericles and his other lackeys also claim that these smaller bedroom communities and paper towns benefit, cost free, from the many and varied amenities and services of the City of Charleston.

If Council Chairman Napo-Leon Stabyourbackus and his liberal cronies want to charge the new Town of James Island for even the current basic level of police protection that Sheriff Al the Cannon provides, then the County should reduce its property taxes to all city residents within the County now served solely by municipal police departments. Napo-Leon just can't have it both ways. The County should either provide the basic level of countywide police protection to all municipalities or prorate and reduce county taxes within municipalities that provide and pay for their own police protection. That would be a very hard argument for an incumbent to be against during a county council campaign if representing a single-member district composed mostly of city residents. The citizens of the Cities of Charleston, North Charleston and Mt Pleasant should not be double taxed for police protection; the County Council owes them a sizable rebate and tax cut.

The polemic argument offered by Pericles is most often based upon his shop-worn lament that only Charleston, under his three decades of imperial reign, can provide a more cost-effective, higher quality police protection and the greater return-to-scale of public services. Well, if that's the case, let's push his argument to its logical conclusion. If bigger is better, then why not real big. This concept has worked amazingly well for the consolidation of countywide emergency medical services (EMS), solid waste disposal and recycling. What other public services could be cost-effectively consolidated countywide?

The good Sheriff Al the Cannon has the right idea; countywide consolidated police protection's day has arrived. In this age of ever increasing taxes, the over-taxed citizens of Charleston County need and demand a break - let the most capable provide the best services in the most cost-effective manner possible. Pericles' self-proclaimed "world famous police department" has a navy bigger than most third-world countries and a bus fleet to rival CARTA's. The citizens of Charleston don't need to be taxed for that extravagance just for political one-upmanship.

While we're thinking about countywide consolidated services, lets take a real hard look at sanitation and fire protection; there's no reason, other than Pericles' vanity and ego, to continue ripping off the citizens for personal political gain. Let the citizens of Charleston County see some true altruistic leadership for a change.

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