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City Council, March 25

Citizens losing patience over release of Sofa Store fire report
HUD grants for 2008/9 - Elpis slated to receive $150,000
Marc Knapp

The tragic sofa store fire was not on yesterday's Council meeting agenda. But it got attention. Two members of the public, one of whom lost a brother in the fire asked when the Routley Commission report would be available. The Commission is charged to provide a full report on the fire and the response by the City Fire department.

The Mayor said he did not normally respond to questions posed by the public in the Citizen Participation period. But in this case, he would. The members of the Commission were to meet with Chief “Rusty” Thomas next month and the report would be made available shortly thereafter. The reply was not satisfactory and the questioner again asked the Mayor to commit to a date. The Mayor repeated what he said and concluded with “I don't have a date!”

Mayor silences Council member Gallant
Towards the end of the meeting, Council member Gallant as Chairman of the Public Safety Committee noted that he had received a lot of correspondence from members of the public seeking answers to questions relating to the fire. How did you deal with them he asked the Mayor? I’d be happy to sit down with you and discuss them, the Mayor said. And that's where it ended!

I rose in Citizen Participation as well. I have friends and acquaintances amongst the City fireman. All is not well in the department. They tell me morale is low, arguments and physical fights are occurring, and training is considered by many to be inadequate. In my view, the situation is getting worse, not better. The issue is simple - a lack of leadership. Mayor Riley may have strong personal feeling for his Fire Department chief and in a sense, his defense of the Chief is noble. But the Mayor has an obligation to the citizens of Charleston, and this is overriding. If the price of returning the Fire Department to health is the firing of the Chief, it should be paid.

Why so long in upgrading protective clothing?
I also noted that Council was to approve expenditure last night of $537,000 for protective clothing for the fireman. I have no issue with the expenditure. But why has it taken so long for the department to be issued with the right sort of protective clothing? It has been 9 months since the tragic fire that displayed the deficiencies within the department.

City takes lion’s share of HUD grants
Every year, City Council signs off on the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and Home Investment Partnership Program (HOME) grants. The funding for these grants comes from HUD, and generally must be directed towards affordable housing and social programs. As in the past, we have a hard time reconciling some of the grants recommended by the City and the purposes defined by HUD

Total CBDG grants recommended by the City committee responsible for allocations amounted to $1.136 million. The actual amount available is $1.056 million but the City hopes to recapture $80,000 from past grants which recipients have not fully spent.

Viewers can press here Download file to see the likely recipients and the grants recommended. Sometimes there are differences between what the committee requests, and what is finally approved. As usual, the City of Charleston is the major beneficiary, claiming 70% of the total CBGD funding. Of the total $720,000 that has been recommended for the City, roughly $500,000 will go to the RPC to fund renovation projects, which usually are in the East and West Sides.

Elpis slated to get another $150,000
Of the CGBD funding going to other entities beside the City, the major part goes to Elpis, to fund the renovation/ repayment of the loan on the Josiah S Tennent Home on East Bay Street. This funding strikes us as most unusual. At the last meeting of Council, the Mayor announced that the City was taking over the home and assuming the mortgage. Elpis could no longer service the mortgage. It was clear that Elpis as an entity providing social services to the Eastside community, was a spent force, if less.

Earlier in the meeting, Council was told that the Josiah S Tennent building had been appraised at $2.8 million. On that basis, taking over the $1.415 million mortgage in consideration for acquiring the building was a bargain, except of course that the City gave the building, in an unrenovated state, to Elpis for $5. But why is Elpis to receive another $150,000? Is this a reward for its pathetic failure to live up to its promises to the Eastside and to the donors to the organization which including the City, could have contributed $5 million or so to the non profit over the years?

HOME grants likely to be pared
HOME grant funds available amount to $816,000. According to our addition, the recommended distributions total $866,000. So it seems some of the recommendations will be pared. The City of Charleston is the major beneficiary, taking more than 50% of the funds available. Of the $400,000 it has allocated itself, $200,000 again will go to the RPC to fund renovation projects in the City. The major part of the balance allocated to outside entities, goes to the Hampstead companies, which are partnering the City in rehabilitating multifamily dwellings. This entity is to receive $200,000.

Other items included
• Renewal of the agreement between the City and the Town of Mount Pleasant to share the policing of the Ravenel Bridge and the roads that immediately lead to it.

• The retention of Chan Kreiger Sieniewicz for $325,000 to develop a master plan for the enhancement of the area along Calhoun Street from King Street to the Cooper River waterfront. It will encompass Ansonborough Field and the adjacent developments along the waterfront.

• An amendment to the Spring /Fishburne/ US17 Drainage Improvement Contract amounting to $134,000. The amendment also includes a traffic study relating to the possible closure of Coming Street between the Ramp leading to US 17 and I 26, and the ramp leading to US 17 S.

• The City is to apply to the County Urban Greenbelt Review Committee for funding to buy 2.9 acres at the terminus of East Estate Boulevard.

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