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County Council, May 31

County to PRC - Drop dead!
How real is the issue over the PRC’s independence?
Warwick Jones

It is no secret that there is a conflict between the County and the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC). But the battles have been fought in executive sessions of both bodies and little has been made public. So we confess to not knowing all the facts. But from what we do know, it seems the issue that divides the bodies – the independence of the PRC - may have grown out of proportion. Resolution may have been possible with a meeting of the bodies rather than letters between their respective attorneys.

Votes to deny PRC sales tax funds
Council, presumably out of frustration over the issue, issued an ultimatum . At yesterday’s meeting of the Finance Committee, it voted to deny the PRC the $36 million for new acquisitions and derived from funds related to the half-cent sales tax if the County could not have final approval on the purchases. Chairman Scott said that the County did not want to micromanage the PRC’s activities but it was incumbent on Council to oversee the spending of sales tax monies. It was the citizens’ money and the Council had an obligation of oversight. Council members McKeown said that he would be concerned for any body whose members were not elected to have the authority to spend sales tax money without oversight by an elected body such as Council. Council member Bostic said that he had great respect for the Commissioners but it was sad to see that this feeling was not reciprocated.

All very harsh words! Council members voted unanimously for the motion to deny the funds. And it is hard to disagree with their reasons.

How did the issue grow to such a size?
After talking to some of the PRC folk at the Council meeting, we wonder how the issue was allowed to build and necessitate such a confrontation. It seems the issue for the PRC members, or at least some of them, was the role that Council plays in managing the disposal of the funds and choosing the sites for purchase. The Commissioners noted that the PRC fell under state law. They might have added that following the decision of the State Supreme Court in relation to Richland County, Commissioners in future may be appointed by the County’s Legislative Delegation and not the County Council. So Council’s influence over the PRC is set to diminish anyhow. But as Chairman Scott said last night, the Council did not want to interfere in the management of the PRC. Council wished simply for final oversight on spending of sales tax funds.

Fears unfounded
We think that the fear of some PRC members was unjustified and judging from comments made last night from some PRC folk after the meeting, an agreement between the Commission and Council will soon be made. It seems that few if any of the Commissioners have an issue with final oversight. The issue was just how much say is the County entitled to in managing the PRC affairs. And taking Chairman Scott’s comments on face value, the PRC seems to have little to fear.

So far, the PRC has signed no contracts for purchases using the $36 million raised from the half cent sales tax. However, it had agreed to one purchase, at Morris Island, for $1.5 million.

Council reaffirms the $25 user fee for Radio Communications
The only other issue of substance before the Committee yesterday was that relating to the sharing of costs for the County-wide 800 MHz Radio Communications, integral to its Consolidated Dispatch facility. The issue was raised by County Administrator Canterbury. He noted that municipalities and other entities were to be charged a fee of $25 a month, beginning fiscal 2008, for each radio using the system. He noted that back in 1995 when it was inducing municipalities to join the system, the County indicated that usage would be free. In 2002, the County back-tracked on this agreement and imposed the fee. This may be unfair and he asked whether the County should reconsider the issue.

The reaction from Chairman Scott was swift. “No”, he said and Council member Bostic moved the suggestion be rejected. After much discussion, the motion was carried.

Council member Schweers asked for the minutes of the past meetings to see exactly what was promised. Staff indicated that revenue foregone by waiving the fee was about $1 million a year. The system was managed by Motorola at a cost of about $1 million a year. Chairman Scott said considering the difficulty of balancing the County budget, revenue of such magnitude should not be given up. Council member McKeown was inclined to waive the fee noting that it was a County service and that the cost should be recovered by the County, not necessarily from the municipalities.

The capacity of the system is about 6000 radios and present usage was about 5500. Was any body threatening to pull out of the system? No, Administrator Canterbury said, but some were complaining. Council member Condon asked whether waiving the fee would cause a large jump in usage. Staff suggested not as the cost of a radio suitable for the system would be over $3000.

Chairman Scott could not recall the discussions relating to the fee in the previous meetings. But notwithstanding, the County had financed the infrastructure and it was only fair that those who use the system should contribute to running costs. The majority of Council members agreed

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