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County Council, October 2

Greenbelt Bank recommendation ignored, Hollywood to get $4.6 million for park
Moving to better plan for waste water services

Warwick Jones

There wasn’t too much on last night Finance Committee agenda. But it was a long meeting. A presentation by staff on waste water disposal took up much of the time. But the decision on a Greenbelt grant to the Town of Hollywood to buy an 8 acre property for a park was the most interesting and contentious item.

Greenbelt Bank recommends grant of only $3 million
The Town has been before the County’s Greenbelt Bank a number of times this year seeking funds to buy the Wide Awake Plantation property. In the first application, it sought $5.6 million and argued this was good value considering the appraisal of $5.8 million. But the Bank thought it was too much and told the Town to negotiate a lower price. This it did and its next application was for $4.6 million. This was still too much for the bank and it agreed at its last meeting to fund the acquisition up to $3 million.

The Bank board members all conceded that the property was excellent and appropriate for Hollywood, but the price was just too high. It would also leave a large hole in the remaining funds.

Council member Summey moves to grant full request
Some of these points were made at last night’s meeting and in a surprise move, Council Member Summey made a motion that the Town be granted $4.6 million, the asking price for the property and not the amount recommended by the Greenbelt Bank. The motion was seconded by Council member Inabinett.

Not right says Council member Schweers
Council Member Schweers, a member of the Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) when the Greenbelt Plan was being shaped, was strongly opposed to the motion. He said the purchase price was too much and that perhaps not enough time was spent by the GAB in defining requirements for grants to towns in the rural part of the County’s unincorporated area. He noted that grants for urban areas were made on the basis of population. And by example, the Isle of Palms had a population of 4600 and was allocated $460,000. A similar calculation for Hollywood with a population of less than 4000 would yield less than $400,000. And here was Council allocating $4.6 million. It was not right.

He also said that such a grant was inappropriate considering the Sales Tax referendum. Most people envisaged the creation of green space not rural parks from rural grants. Such parks were the preserve of the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) which got it own allocation of $36 million from the sales tax. Council member Schweers was supported by Council members McKeown and Thurmond who also noted that Council was going against the opinion of a Bank board which it had put in place and which had the expertise to deal with such matters

Accessible to all citizens
Chairman Pryor was perhaps the strongest supporter of the grant. He commented on the quality of the property and the benefits of the acquisition to Hollywood and the County. He also noted that most of the rural grants made by the Bank in the past were for easements and did not provide for public access. The Hollywood property would be accessible to all citizens.

The Mayor of Hollywood also told the Committee that the vendor had not offered the property at a price lower than $4.6 million and that he owed over $4 million on the property.

In the final vote, Council members Pryor, Darby, Inabinett, Summey and Rawl voted for the grant. Opposed were Council members Thurmond, McKeown, Schweers and Condon.

Moves to better plan waste water disposal
The discussion on Water Quality management was arcane and clearly some of us, including Council members, had difficulty in following it. Surprising was that the County did not have a clear plan for the disposal of waste water in the unincorporated areas of the County. It was now moving to address the problem, spurred by requests from citizens, developers and the BCDCOG.

Perhaps the staring point is the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, Section 208. This act gave State Governors the authority to administer the program and the SC Governor, designated The Berkeley Charlesto, Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG) as its Planning Agency. For the County to administer its own waste water disposal, it needed to become a Designated Management Agency (DMA). It has made application a number of times, in 1976, 1988 and in 2008. What happened in the first 2 years is unknown to staff, but the 2008 application is still pending with the BCDCOG.

BCDCOG “controls” waste water program
At present, the BCDCOG, reluctantly “controls” the County waste water program in the unincorporated areas. It seems that it wishes the County to become a DMA. The County has other options, one of which is to rescind its application and work with ordinances. But Council agreed last night that it was best to move ahead with the application. By becoming a DMA, it could “determine level of services and associated service areas, negotiate contracts with operators, hire waste water engineering consultants and determine a funding source”. There is no funding source in place presently or expertise amongst County staff.

Public hearing on the issue
Council got hung up for some time as to whether it was better to retain private or government owned entities to dispose of waste water. It was finally resolved by calling for a public hearing. Depending on what transpired at the hearing, the County most likely vote in the aftermath to continue its application to become a DMA. But that would appear to us to be only the first step.

It would seem that the County has little interest in creating another utility in the County to handle waste water disposal. As some Council members pointed out, there are well-experienced entities, such as Mount Pleasant Water Works, Charleston Water Services with which the County could form agreements. But it is likely that the County will at least need to create some staff positions.

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