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County Council, November 15

Green light for some big projects
Mulling contributions for beach re-nourishment
Warwick Jones

Council gave the final nod for some big projects yesterday. Meeting as the Finance Committee, it approved contracts for construction of the new jail, an upgrade in the revenue and billing system, and repairs for the blighted Judicial Center. It also instructed staff to devise a policy to allow the use of Accommodation Fees for beach re-nourishment.

Need for a new jail is urgent
The need for a new jail has been evident for many years though it is only in recent years that Council seriously addressed the problem. The present jail has a rated capacity to hold about 700 inmates. Presently the number is more than double the rated capacity. It is a wonder to some observers that the County has escaped Federal and State intervention for the serious overcrowding. But this problem should be alleviated by mid 2010 when planned construction is completed and the capacity is 2100 inmates. A contract, worth $90.2 million is to be awarded to M.B.Khan-Moseley, a partnership between M.B.Kahn Construction Co. and an architectural firm

We understand from staff that the contract amount is very close to budget. The actual budget figure for the jail is $108 million but this figure included the cost of moving the SPCA facility which stands on the site and other related items. These items are not part of the construction contract.

Only a “band aid'?
Sheriff Cannon attended last night’s meeting and in a response to Council member Inabinett’s question declared that the new jail on completion would meet the County’s needs but there would no excess capacity. With the growth of the County, he intimated there would be need for another jail. Council member Thurmond implicitly critical of previous Councils said a decision on the jail “should have been made sooner”. He expressed concern that spending $100 million more should fully address the problem and not be a “band aid”.

There were 3 final bidders for the contract. Caddell-Hightowr-DMJM was the original favored bidder but negotiations with the County in relation to a final contract were unsuccessful. M.B.Khan-Moseley was the second favored of the bid.

Other contracts
The other contracts approved last night were $3.43 million for repairs to the Judicial Center in the City of Charleston, and $1.85 million for the new billing and collection system. There was little discussion on these items though staff did prepare presentations relating to the bidding process. However, the Council broke for executive sessions to discuss these items and the jail contract.

Repairs to the Judicial Center have been under consideration for some time. The building is relatively new but faulty construction/design became evident shortly after completion. The County is suing the contractor over the faulty work. The total projected cost of the repairs is $4.8 million though a major part of the balance is a Contingency provision of $685,000. The remaining balance relates to estimated cost of County-provided contract administration. Midwest Maintenance Inc was the successful bidder to make the repairs. It expects to complete repairs by June 2009.

No wish to repeat previous mistake
The revenue billing and collection system has also been under review for some time. Council members also reiterated that the contract with the original provider was a disaster and they did not want to make another mistake. Staff went to great lengths to assure members that this was unlikely. The successful bidder was Manatron Inc that has designed and installed similar systems in other counties in SC. The contract covers the provision of both hardware and software and will streamline all of the County’s tax and fee collection processes.

Beach re-nourishment - is it worthwhile?
Admittedly, the item on the agenda related to a request for staff to develop a policy on the use of Accommodation Fees for beach re-nourishment. But it seemed to us that the majority of Council members were willing to sign off on funding regardless. Only Council member Inabinett showed some concern, asking whether re-nourishment would help private land holders to the exclusion of the public. The answer was no, the public has access to all beaches.

Staff prepared a presentation on the Accommodation Fee - raised by the County with a 2% tax on all accommodation bills (hotels and rentals) - and the distribution of the funds The County projects annual receipts of about $9.5 million. After approved distributions, which are determined both ad hoc and by formula, there should be about $3.5 million left in the fund. In the past, distributions generally have been less than contributions and a surplus has accrued. It was suggested that 50% of the balance should be provided for beach re-nourishment.

The presentation by staff also showed the uses to which the Fee proceeds could be put as defined by SC statute. The State, in our view gives the County wide latitude to distribute the funds as long at the use is tourism related. There certainly seemed no legal impediment in using funds for beach re-nourishment.

IOP seeking funding
Members of the Isle of Palms Council were present at the meeting and spoke of beach problems. The IOP Council hopes to raise $500,000 to begin the permitting process to allow offshore dredging. The total cost of beach re-nourishment on the IOP was an estimated $7 million, spread over about 3 years.

Nature will take its course regardless
We do not think we are alone in our view that beach re-nourishment is a waste of money. Whatever the amount spent, it will be insufficient in the face of major storms to maintain with certainty any beach in the County. Nature will take its course and there is little that the IOP or the County can do about it.

Beaches are not destroyed - the location and shape change
And the Council speaks of helping the tourist industry? There will always be beach frontage in the County, but the junction of the land with the sea will change. The problem is not that a beach no longer exists - the problem is that the new beach front may or will be further inland and cause the destruction of some houses. The beach still will exist but the beach line may waver. And regardless, the tourists will have the same access to a beach, and lots of it.

If the County persists in financing beach re-nourishment then it ought to address the zoning and planning in the County and municipalities. If municipalities allow development close to the beach line, inviting problems with a changing shoreline, their pleas to County for funding should be ignored. At the same time, if developers or property owners build close to the shoreline, they should recognize the risk entailed. Again, they should not seek a government bailout. Theoretically, it would make sense to ensure that no structure is built close to the shore line. But considering the density of buildings already stretching along the shore, it is probably not practical.

We would also suggest Council members check with their constituents on this issue. We have a feeling that the majority of the County’s residents oppose beach re-nourishment