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County Council, April 10

Issue over judicial staff wages
Discussion on underground wiring for County
Warwick Jones

There was lots of discussion at yesterday's meeting, but little action. Council meeting as the Finance Committee heard presentations from SCE&G on underground power lines, and from the staff on bonding relating to trucks using secondary roads. Earlier, when meeting as the Planning/Public Works Committee, Council heard from the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG) in relation to a waste water plan.

None of the presentations was particularly riveting. But the evening was not without some drama. Council member Darby got everybody's attention when he made an impassioned plea/demand for some increase in wages and salaries of secretarial staff serving judges. He claimed that Council had promised to consider an increase after raising judges’ salaries significantly a year or so ago. Council had not lived up to its promise, he said. He spoke also of the low level of earnings of these employees.

County Administrator Mac Canterbury presented to Council a paper prepared by staff that showed that judicial secretarial staff had enjoyed wage and salary reviews over the years. He and others also opined that although these employees may arguably deserve raises, it would be improper to single them out now over other staff working for the County. A comprehensive study of all wages and salaries was needed. The Administrator also said that he had searched the records and could find no evidence that Council had made any promise to review the salaries of the judicial staff. And the issue died.

Should SCE&G place all wiring underground?
As a member of the Ansonborough Neighborhood, which is presently considering underground wiring, the presentation by SCE&G held few surprises. The presentation was sought by Council member Thurmond who thought that the aesthetic appeal of the community would be enhanced if wiring could be placed underground the County. A spokesman for SCE&G. said that about 76% of its 675,000 customers are serviced by overhead lines. He also noted that the power lines are placed underground in most subdivisions these days, and in 2006, 85% of all new lines were placed underground.

Move would be costly
The spokesman said that it costs $500,000 to $1.5 million per mile to place lines underground. This estimate did not relate to the transmission lines - placing these underground was much higher and could be quite complex. Overall, the very broad cost of placing wiring underground was about $10,000 per customer.

How was this financed was asked? It depended. The municipalities had different schemes. The City of Charleston would finance part of the placement but also would draw on citizens for part of the costs. It would also arrange financing for the citizens. Council member Thurmond, despite the high costs, was still interested in proceeding with underground wiring and suggested that a referendum be held. Nobody seemed to disagree.

Not all citizens will be happy to support move
SCE&G folk suggested that not everybody would sign off on underground wiring. Those already a served by underground wiring were unlikely to support funding those who don’t have it. And indeed more to the point, there are a lot of customers of the utility, who have difficulty in making ends meet. They certainly wouldn't be happy to see an increase in their utility bills to finance underground wiring. Yes, there were advantages to underground wiring – outages were less likely because of hurricanes or bad weather but at the same time outages tended to be longer because breaks in lines tended to be harder to locate. Also the cost of $10,000 per customer related to the cost of getting the service to the property. The cost, borne by the customer, still had to be incurred of linking his house to the line outside.

What about transformers and switch gear?
SCE&G failed to comment on the problem of transformers and switch gears. These bulky boxes were placed underground when the lower part of the Peninsula went underground. And apparently, this placement was both expensive and prone to technical difficulties. The utility subsequently decided that it will not place these boxes underground. It is the experience of this writer that few members of a community are prepared to suffer these objects in their yards. If there is a lot of public space in the community, there may be no problem as these lands can host the boxes. But otherwise, neighborhoods, particularly older and densely settled, may find it very difficult to find suitable spots for these ungainly objects

A move to protect secondary roads from damage
Councilmember Bostic was responsible for the staff presentation on bonding relating to trucks using secondary roads. The issue is simply the fact that most of the roads owned and serviced by the County cannot accommodate heavyweight trucks bearing full loads. Unlike the State owned roads, it seems that no mechanism is in place to ensure that damage to these roads does not occur, or recourse to the parties that caused the damage is possible. As the staff presentation showed, severe damage had been sustained from the heavy trucks, particularly relating to moving material for developments.

Staff was to go back and consider the issue some more. But it did suggest amongst other things, that developers be bonded. If the trucks swerving their developments caused damage, the County would draw on the funds from these bonds to restore the roads. There was also talk about limiting truck sizes and ways of measuring their weight.

Waste water management and waste management
We confess to not fully understanding the presentation made by the CBDCOG in relation to treatment of wastewater in the unincorporated sections of the County. From the questions asked by some Council members, it seems we weren't alone. From our limited understanding, the County needs to create a designated Management Agency to fill a legal role within the unincorporated area. Staff was to consider the matter.

And finally, the public will have an opportunity to have it say in relation to the landfill at Bees Ferry – only the date and location of the public meeting remain to be determined. And that should occur before the Council meeting this coming Tuesday. Council member Bostic, who led the request for a public hearing, noted his displeasure at the fact that parts of the landfill can be raised to 170 feet from the 70 feet limit previously imposed. He said this would be unsightly and impair the views from many of the houses near the land fill. He declared his intention to seek a lower limit.

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