The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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County Council, December 13

Mayor Riley taken to task by County
Town of James Island takes issue with charges. Stiff penalties to retrieve stray pets
Warwick Jones

The Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District sought by the City of Charleston ostensibly was the issue. The City needed the approval of Council to use property taxes collected in the TIF district – the land made available following the relocation of the ramp to the Cooper River Bridge – to fund infrastructure. It was not the first TIF district created by the City and the County, and we thought the creation would breeze through Council. It didn’t. The issue was deferred from an earlier Council meeting. It was passed at yesterday’s Finance Committee meeting. But there were strong words from some Council members.

Long Savannah annexation prompts confrontation?
We suspect the confrontational tone of Council was set by the decision of the City some weeks ago to annex the Long Savannah properties in West Ashley. This effectively moved the Urban Growth Boundary, something the City had promised not to do without the County’s blessing. There was no discussion about the City’s action though one Council member expressed disappointment.

Council member Thurmond was the first to speak. He said that the request for TIF district was a request by the City for aid. He questioned whether there would be any benefit for those in the rest of the County. He then went on to question the City’s commitment to other joint projects. He specifically mentioned Consolidated Dispatch, relating to EMS, police and fire emergencies. (The County is to introduce a countywide service that all municipalities have been invited to join. All have indicated willingness except the City.)

Mayor Riley responds
Mayor Riley attended the meeting and responded to the Council member. He said that the TIF would ultimately benefit everybody in the community. Funds would be used for drainage and a new school, amongst other things. He also said that the Consolidated Dispatch was being reviewed and he wanted to make sure that it better served City residents.

Council member Darby wanted assurance that citizens in the nearby communities would be hired to undertake much of the work. The Mayor responded that the City had set a target of 20% participation by Minority and Women Owned businesses. Chairman Scott indicated that this issue had already been discussed between some Council members and the City.

So much for cooperation
And then Council member Schweers asked the question that needed to be asked. If the Mayor were making much about the need for cooperation between the City and the County, why did the City effectively and unilaterally change the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) with the annexation of Long Savannah properties?

The response was obfuscation. The Mayor said that the City has not moved the UGB. The City had defined the criteria to allow for a change in the UGB. Public hearings needed to be held, a decision has still to be made. (In a sense, the Mayor is right. The annexation of Long Savannah has passed only the first reading on City Council. It is now to go the City Planning Commission. It then goes back to Council for final approval. But please contact the writer of this note if you are prepared to wager that the annexation will not be approved in each of these steps.)

Urban Grants for greenbelt purchases approved
Council approved the creation of the TIF and then moved on to discuss the Urban Grants made under the Greenbelt Program. All of the projects that were approved by the Urban Grants Review Committee were approved with one exception. This was an application by the Ten Mile Community for a lot near Highway 17 north of Mount Pleasant. The grant was being reviewed by the PRC because of the discrepancies in the valuation and lot size.

Chairman Scott also noted that a grant had been approved by the Urban Grants Review Committee for the purchase of land by the City of Charleston that was on the rural side of the UGB. Strictly, this contravened the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan. But as the property was abutting the UGB and the City was spending funds that had been allocated to it anyhow, no Council member objected. Council member Condon suggested that the Town of Mount Pleasant might need to do something similar. The cost of purchasing greenspace in the Town of Mount Pleasant was high. It made sense to buy land in the unincorporated area of the County to provide greenspace to serve Mount Pleasant residents.

James Islanders claim discriminatory treatment
When Council discussed the provision of services to municipalities about a year or so ago, we thought it tried to act fairly. Yesterday, members of the James Island Town Council expressed a contrary view. The County’s action was discriminatory they said. (When the County discussed the issue, it calculated the tax revenue it would lose following the incorporation of the town - local option sales tax and franchise fees largely. If there were to be a loss of revenue, estimated at about $600,000, then the new town should pay for some services) According to the Town Council members, the town has received no revenue but will suffer a loss of services.

The differences were diffused when Chairman Scott asked staff to again look at the situation and bring back a recommendation about the provision of services and the charges. He earlier noted that the Town really wanted to control zoning and planning. It had no interest in providing most other services.

Heavy penalty to retrieve your stray pet “whole”
The ASPCA wanted a harsher regulation in relation to the spaying and neutering of the impounded - if a pet is picked up, it gets spayed or neutered and that’s that. The ASPCA was concerned about the large number of strays it was collecting and the potential for strays to breed. Council was also concerned. But it softened the regulation somewhat but at a heavy financial price to the owner.

Council decided that if a pet is impounded, it will be returned to its owner for a fee of $50, but it will also be either spayed or neutered (if not already done so). But the owner can retrieve his/her pet “whole” by the payment of $200. And if in a year, the pet is picked up again by the ASPCA, it will cost the owner $1000 to retrieve the animal “whole”.

Council member Inabinett expressed the view that hunting dogs, with a propensity of going “awol” could be unfairly exposed. But spokespersons for the ASPCA and Pet Helpers said that hunting dogs were only 10% or so of the total dogs gathered.

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