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County Council, May 10

No closure on some major items
CARTA returns to the trough
Warwick Jones

There was no closure on the important items before the Finance Committee yesterday evening. In most cases, the Committee decided to defer final decisions until the Council meeting on Tuesday. Two of the important items were related to the proposed 2008 budget. Others related to the Parks and Recreation Commission, and to a road project.

The Finance Committee was to sign off on the 2008 budget for the General Fund, and related items. We are not sure why it decided to defer a decision. As far as we can tell the figures for the General Fund are identical to those in the draft distributed about 2 weeks ago and reproduced on this site (County Council April 26). The figures before the Committee were more detailed than we have seen but we are not aware of any major issue.

CARTA wants a higher share of sales tax funds
The Committee also decided to defer discussion on the budget for the half-cent sales tax, and the reason is more obvious. CARTA was seeking, again, an increase in its allocation and staff said no! Council members obviously wanted more information before debating the issue.

Last year, CARTA was allocated $7.87 million by Council. Of the total, $1.098 million was a special allocation to ease the burden in relation to borrowings on the garage buy-back. The remainder, $6.773 million, was to help finance operations. This year, CARTA is requesting $8.432 million. The request includes another $1.09 million for the garage financing, as was approved by Council last year, but also $7.335 million for operations. This is an 8% increase over the previous year’s allocation.

But staff says no
In was the understanding at the time of the sales tax referendum that Transit would be limited to an 18% share of the sales tax proceeds. (The major part of Transit’s share goes to CARTA – last year about 96%). By approving the special funding for the garage financing for CARTA last year, Council allowed Transit to exceed this percentage figure. But it did so but with the understanding that Transit’s, and thereby CARTA’s share of sales tax funds would fall in subsequent years to bring the average ratio back to 18%. We presume that staff was mindful of this and anticipated the acrimony that would be generated if it had gone along with CARTA’s request. And after all, RTMA (rural bus routes) needs also to be funded. It requested $0.447 million for fiscal 2008 but staff whittled this down to $0.382 million. This is still well up on the $0.25 million received in 2007

Will CARTA need to cut routes? Will it delay its express service to Ashley Phosphate Road and other areas? We don’t know, but more should be revealed at the next Council meeting

To see CARTA and RTMA figures, Download file

Apart from CARTA’s request, there was little contentious in the sales tax budget, in our opinion. To see the proposed allocation for 2008 sales tax revenues, Download file. To see 5 year projections of revenues and operation costs, Download file.

Who gets to elect the members of the PRC?
We confess to not understanding the full ramifications of the issues relating to the Parks and Recreation Commission. The Finance Committee was to approve an ordinance to more closely define the procedures for the PRC in buying or securing property financed by sales tax funds. It was allocated $36 million by voters in the referendum in 2004.

There was no discussion of the item and the Committee moved into an “executive session” when it came up. When members returned, the Committee passed a resolution requesting the Legislative Delegation to outline its plans for the PRC. (Actually, the wording was lengthier but we think we got the meaning). Council member McKeown also stated that as funds used by the PRC came from county citizens, it was only right that the Council should have the right to make the final approval.

We can’t connect all the dots but the complication arises out of a Court decision relating to Richland County which gave its Legislative Delegation the right to choose the members of its PRC-equivalent. If this decision is upheld, it would mean that County Council would lose its right to appoint members to Charleston’s PRC. It seems Council is defining its options.

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