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City Council, February 22

Some large redistricting changes likely
Mayor optimistic on funding Crosstown flooding solution
Marc Knapp

It was probably not a surprise to Council members. The boundaries of their districts need to be redrawn before the next election, and there could be some big changes.

The changes would reflect the population distribution in the City over the last 10 years as measured by the recent census. Mr. Bobby Bowers of the Office of Research and Statistics (SC Budget and Control Board) told Council that to make voting more equitable, district boundaries would need to be redrawn, a process that would be undertaken by Council. And from his anecdotes, he expected it would be a fractious process. The new boundaries had to be approved by the Department of Justice before implementation.

Mr. Bowers noted the disproportionate size of some City districts. Reflecting population growth, districts represented by Council member White (District 1) and Riegel (District 10) were disproportionately large. Those of Council members Lewis (District 3), Mitchell (District 4), Waring (District 7), and Gallant (District 5 ), where there had been little or no growth, were disproportionately small.

The question raised by the redistricting is whether it will make a difference to the reelection prospects of any of the incumbents. For Council members White and Riegel, we doubt it. But it could for some of the others. The composition of the population of Charleston has changed over the last 10 years and the proportion of minorities has declined though not dramatically. But it follows that redistricting could lessen the percentage of minorities in those districts presently represented by the African American Council members. All these Council members were elected either unopposed or with healthy majorities. To say more without the benefit of seeing the new boundaries is speculation.

Council member Mallard injected some humor into the discussion when he mentioned favorable recollections of working with Mr. Bowers in the Senate. An incredulous Councilmember Riegel asked when Council member Mallard served in the Senate. As a page, 28 years ago, he was told.

Contract awarded for initial work on Crosstown flooding mitigation
Mayor Riley also revealed a lighter side when the approval of an $11.3 million contract to begin the alleviation of drainage problems in the area around the US17/Septima Clark highway (Crosstown) was discussed. He referred to the lead article in the Sunday edition of the Post and Courier which he said had many errors. And to think I spent a lot time with the writer. “What a colossal waste of time that was”, he lamented. Earlier in the discussion, the Mayor seemed about to spell out the errors of the article but stopped himself. "This is America", he sighed and people have a right to their opinions.

The Post and Courier has written at length about the drainage problems relating to the Cross town, both in the Sunday edition and today’s so we will only summarize.

The cost of completely dealing with the flooding problem is estimated at $146 million. This is a large amount for the City and more than its annual operating budget. Of the total cost, the City has spent $7.5 million out of its own funds on design of the solution. The Mayor noted that Highway 17 is a federal Highway and it should be a federal responsibility.

The City had sought federal funds to cover the total cost of the drainage project but received only $10 million. Considering only 51 municipalities received any funding out of the 1400 or so applicants, the award of $10 million was still pleasing. A condition of the grant was that the City provide matching funds of $2 million.

It needs now to find the remaining funds to undertake the implementation. This amounts to about $134 million and is apportioned to tunnels and piping $50 million, a pump station $34 million, and surface collection $50 million.

The $10 million award would be used to begin work on the project even though the nature of the project did not lend itself to being broken down into single viable entities. The funds would be used for surface work and this would alleviate flooding though not fully prevent it. Surface pipes to be installed would allow the area to drain by virtue of gravity. This means that it will drain in a low tide, but not at a high tide. Full drainage could not occur until shafts were sunk, tunnels bored, and the pumping station in the Ashley River built.

What the Mayor revealed that was new to us were plans to fund the whole project. He hoped that happy result would occur in the next few years (or his next tenure). He indicated that the City would continue to press heavily on the US and State sources as he believed it was rightly their responsibility rather than the City’s. But he acknowledged that the City could not ignore the issue and that it would contribute another $30 million to the project.

From where this $30 million comes puzzled most of us including Council member Mallard who pressed for more details. The Mayor credited City Corporate Counsel, Charlton DeSaussure with the idea of using TIF funds. The County had previously agreed to a 10 year extension of the TIF district along Calhoun and Meeting Street and which now includes the Gaillard Auditorium. This extension apparently opened up a window of $60 million of potential financing. The Gaillard renovation absorbed $30 million and the remaining $30 million is to be marked for the drainage project.

Council voted to award the $11.4 million contract to O.L.Thompson Construction with Council member Gregorie abstaining.

City Hall seems top heavy
I again expressed concern over the course of the economy, and what I consider a fat budget for this year. The Compensation Study made a few years ago and the implementation of its recommendations was probably no favor to taxpayers. In Citizens Participation, I noted that the Mayor makes $162,818 a year. This seemed a little high in my view. It certainly seems high in relation to the salary of some Governors, in particular that of Michigan, who earns $159,300 a year. And although there may not be a direct relationship, I suspect the level of department head salaries bears some correlation with that of the Mayor.

As I remarked at the previous Council meeting also, the Mayor has two executive assistants each making over $100,000 a year each. I think that City Hall is top heavy. If Department Heads are doing their job, does the Mayor really need two executive assistants?

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