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County Council, September 30

Another tough year ahead for the State and probably for the County
Tough for CARTA too

Warwick Jones

Those looking for a report on the Finance Committee meeting earlier this month would have been disappointed. There was none. It was a featureless meeting with only “bread and butter” items on the agenda. We thought that yesterday’s meeting would be similar. Most of it was but the presentation by a representative of the SC Association of Counties got our attention, and that of most others.

Mr. Robert Croom told the Committee that the State faced a budget shortfall of $1.1 -$1.2 billion next year. He said that most sources or revenue were expected to hold up or decline only marginally. But there would no stimulus funds. He expected that in consequence there would be sharp cut back in spending and that some agencies would be closed. The implication was that Counties would have to pick up the shortfall if they wanted to maintain services. And indeed there was the question as to the level of direct funding for Charleston County.

Mr. Croom then went on to talk about possible changes in the tax system. He made no forecasts but indicated that some legislators wanted to raise the sales tax, some to extend it over all items, and some to eliminate company tax and replace it with a sales tax. Any of the proposed changes would be a heavy slog, he said. But he did say that if the sales tax were extended to all items – particularly food and cars – it would boost the local option sales tax for the County and provide relief for property tax payers. He estimated that food represented about a third of all consumer purchases.

For the record, the State budget for 2009-2010 was $20.69 billion and included Federal Funds of $7.8 billion. A shortfall of $1.1 billion would represent 5% of this year’s budget – pretty hefty.

Staff is probably well aware of the state’s woes, and indeed of the County. This year’s budget was tough but the signs are suggesting that next year’s will be equally tough, and perhaps worse.

CARTA lowers revenue estimate for next year and plans cost reductions
The State will not be the only entity to suffer from a fall in federal and other funding. CARTA submitted a revised budget to the County last night and indicated the action it would take to adjust to lower anticipated revenue. Mr. Howard Chapman, executive director of CARTA told the Finance Committee that CARTA has suffered reductions in sales tax revenues in recent years. Last year, the fall had been made up with Federal Grants. When CARTA prepared its budget for 2010-2011 earlier this year, it anticipated reductions in grants, fare box revenue as well as sales tax receipts. However, it had been too optimistic in expectations and consequently was revising budget numbers. It was now projecting revenues of $18.54 million, an 8 % decrease from its earlier projection.

To offset the greater than anticipated decline in revenue, CARTA plans to pass the anticipated cost increase in health insurance to employees and to make changes in bus schedules including the elimination of some routes. Press Download file to see letter from Mr.Chapman detailing route changes and closures

Council member Thurmond pleads successfully for road funds
Council member Thurmond uncharacteristically pleaded with Council to approve road works at the junction of Folly and Camp Roads. He said that there had been a number of road projects considered in his area and all had been controversial. This project had the support of all - the City of Charleston, the Town of James Island, PSDs and residents. So pleas approve it, he asked, even though it going to cost probably $15.4 million compared to the cost of $6m estimated 10 years ago.

He said that two other projects (Folly/Maybank and Route17/41) in his area had come in under budget and could the savings be applied to this project? Council member Thurmond noted that the intersection was a major bottleneck to traffic on Folly Road.

The Finance Committee acquiesced

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