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County Council, May 14

Budget outline defined for 2010
Exasperation over Chisolm Road properties. And Ms. Condon’s Birthday

Warwick Jones

Council has completed the broad strokes in painting the 2010 budget. The Finance Committee began the deliberations over the funds that make up the County’s budget about 2 weeks ago and yesterday completed its task, at leasat for the General Fund. Staff will now fill in the details. The first reading of the budget ordinance is scheduled for May 21.

The final budget will be close to that presented by staff 2 weeks ago. In that budget, staff proposed leaving the millage rate at its present level and making cuts to spending to balance the budget. Although the millage rate will stay the same, tax liability for property owners will rise as receipts from the Local Option Sales Tax used to offset property taxes are down. The Chairman estimated that the increase in liability would amount to $15 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Staff in its presentation relating to the 2010 budget noted
• No General Fund millage increase
• Balanced budget
• Essential services maintained
• Maintained financial position
• Impact on personnel minimized
No reduction in force
No mandatory furloughs
No unpaid holidays
No across- the-board pay reduction

Elimination of positions and cuts in benefits
Yesterday’s discussion was similar to other budget sessions. Staff worked its way through the various funds, suggesting ways in which costs could be shaved, and the implications. Much of the savings achieved yesterday came through the elimination of employee positions and the changes in employee benefits. The latter was agreed to some weeks ago. The Administrator noted that Public Works had been cut to the bone and it was his hope that some of the eliminated positions be restored during the year if the economy were to turn upward.

Council member Thurmond fought a lone battle to consider further cost cuts. And his desire to do so sparked a lengthy discussion about procedures. Council attorney Dawson advised him to vote for the budget as it was so far. We won’t pretend that we fully understand the reasoning, but not to do so, would stop him for raising some issues, Mr. Dawson said. In other words, if an issue has been voted on, a Council member cannot raise the issue again if he were on the losing side of a vote.

Chisolm Road case deferred
The other item of interest was the controversial Chisolm Road properties on Johns Island. The properties are on the rural side of the Urban Growth Boundary. The owner has been attempting for some years in one way or another to develop the properties at a greater density (1 dwelling unit per 1.6 acres) than present zoning allows (1 unit per 5 to 10 acres). He has sought to change the Comprehensive Plan and to have a Planned Unit Development approved. Council was told yesterday that a deferment was sought by the developer to allow further discussion with surrounding property owners.

And some Council members are exasperated
The request generated exasperation for Council member Schweers. He said that development has been on the table for some years. It has been subject to a number of hearings. The public had been called out a number of times and had expressed its displeasure at the project. It was wrong to make these repeated calls on the public. He said that the case should be heard at the next meeting and dispensed with. Council member Thurmond supported him.

Like Council member Schweers, it is hard for us to understand why Council has allowed the case to continue. The Planning Commission has voted against it and a considerable precedent will be set if Council approves it. Apart for a slap in the face of all the Johns Islanders who opposed the project, it is making light of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). The framers of the Comprehensive Plan warned of the risks of moving the UGB and the impact as such a move now being contemplated. Most frightening is the reports that there are many developers hoping for a favorable Council decision which will enable them to also make applications for denser developments on the rural side of the UGB.

Democrats and Republicans join together
And finally, there was Council member Condon’s birthday. Council member Darby blew her cover. Ms. Condon was particularly florid, though amused when Council sang her a “Happy Birthday”. Council was in full blast and in unison. Democrats and Republicans were equally vocal though we are not sure all were on key. Even the very formal Council member Rawl contributed with gusto. If Council members choose to absence themselves from meetings which coincide with their birthdays in future, we’ll know why.

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