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City Council, December 19

No second thoughts on salary increases
Council members to receive equivalent of "about $30,000 a year"
Marc Knapp

There didn't seem to be any second thoughts. Council members Fishburne and Wilson said the increases were too much. But Council went ahead and voted a sizable increase in members’ remuneration beginning January 2008. As we noted in our report on the Council meeting a week ago, Council agreed to raise salaries of members from $11,100 to $15,000 a year. The salary of the Mayor is to rise from $125,200 to $149,000 a year beginning January, 2008 and rise thereafter at 3% a year.

Council member Fishburne noted that according to his calculation, Council was voting for a total remuneration per member of about $30,000. This comprised the $15,000 salary, an estimated $12,000 or so for medical coverage of their families, and travel cost reimbursement for 4 overnight trips. He said some people in the community were not earning this amount in full-time jobs. It was wrong to pay members this amount for part-time work. Council member Wilson thought that an increase of 40% was just too much. The rest of Council did not agree and voted for the increases with Council members Fishburne and Wilson voting against.

We rose in Citizens Participation and asked that now that they were being paid more, could Council members come better prepared for meetings? It is clear that some members come to meetings ill prepared to discuss the issues before them and had not read the material supplied by the City relating to each item on the agenda. Often there is no discussion at all on important issues, omissions we have noted in our comments in the recent past.

Council not doing enough for African American Community
Council also suffered a harsh attach from a citizen who spoke disparagingly of Council and what it had done for the African American community. He drew attention to the lack of opportunity for African Americans, and a lot more. He said more than he should, and some African American members of Council rose to rebut his accusations, and condemn his language. (He used the "n" word.) We agree the citizen did let his emotion take control. But we have to say that he was only echoing something that is widely felt in the African American community. A reader of "The Chronicle" is well aware of the criticism made of the City Council and in particular the African members. The newspaper frequently points to the lack of opportunity for African Americans and the seeming indifference of the black council members.

The citizen first rose after the public hearing relating to re-zonings in the Magnolia project in the Neck Area. He wished to question Mr. Robert Clements, the principal of the development group but, understandably, was not allowed by the Mayor. One senses that he wanted to ask about the possible effect or displacement of African American families arising from the development.

Rezoning to facilitate Magnolia development
Magnolia will be the first of the major developments in the Neck. It is located immediately north of the Magnolia Cemetery. The City has rezoned much of the land to facilitate development. The Area will now be split into three Height Districts, 55/30, 80/30, and 120 Old City Height Districts. The lower height will relate to structures close to the water while the 120’ height limit will relate to structures closer to I-26.

Mr. Clements spoke during the public hearing and thanked all those who had participated in shaping the development. He noted that it had taken a number of years, and innumerable meetings to put it all together and he specially thanked Council member Gallant for his help.

Accommodation Tax distribution. Some dubious candidates
We did not include any comment on the Accommodation Tax distribution in our report on the City Council meeting last week. The reason was simply that we did not get the documentation. To see the distribution,Download file

Guests in hotels are hit with three special of taxes, each 2% and which aggregate 6% The City Accommodation Fee was discussed at last week's Council and the distribution amounted to $3.62 million. The Accommodation tax amounts to 2% and the City's share of the tax and the beneficiaries are shown today. The tax is supposed to be used for tourist and culture related activities. We guess that most beneficiaries qualify, some very easily. But with some we have a hard time. They may be worthwhile causes, but should they be funded with this tax? E.g. American School of Building Arts, the Aquarium, Black Expo. Viewers can make their own decision.

As we reported last week, the Ordinance relating to the Accommodations Fee states there will be two sets of expenditures. One will relate to capital improvements beneficial to the tourism industry and the other, to meet the cost of operational expenses beneficial to the tourist industry. The City has allocated $1.81 million to each of the categories.

The split of the capital improvements is as follows
Energy Performance Contract (transfer to Energy Performance Fund) $250,000
Gove
1000
rnors Park Complex (transfer to Governors Park Fund) $300,000
Aquarium Bond (transfer to Marine Science Museum Fund) $375,000
Renovation of City Hall (transfer to Capital Improvement Fund) $385,000
Memminger Auditorium Renovation $500,000
Total $1.81 million

We decipher the wording
Without any discussion on Council, we were not able to determine what the amounts were really for. We now understand that the Energy Performance Contract related to a lease purchase agreement for the replacement of lighting in the City Garages. The replacement led to substantial cost savings, we believe. The Governors Park Complex related to amortization of a bond issued to finance the Tennis Court facility on Daniel Island, and the Aquarium Bond related to the bond issued by the City to finance its share of the construction of the Aquarium. The amount is not reflected in the Aquarium's accounts. The Memminger Hall renovation was discussed at a City Council meeting earlier this year when Spoleto agreed to renovate the Hall, with the City's assistance in return for being to use it during the Spoleto Festival.

It's grim when the public has to ask the questions that Council members should be asking. For the record, some Council members did not know what all the above items were.