The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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County Council, November 3

Where are the property tax bills?
Committee formed to begin study of consolidation
Warwick Jones

Council wondered out loud what on earth was going on at the Auditors Office. Where are the property tax bills for 2011? They should have been out some weeks ago and the delay will also delay the collection of revenue. This will not only be inconvenient but municipalities and agencies that rely on tax revenue may have to borrow and incur interest expense to tide them over.

Council member Summey raised the issue at the end of the Council meeting last night. (The meeting normally occurs on the Tuesday following a Finance Committee meeting but was changed because of holiday scheduling) In a speech laced with indignation and incredulity, he asked what Council could about the delay. He recognized that the Auditors Office was responsible and that the Auditor was an elected official. He had been told to “shut up” about the issue but clearly, was not prepared to do so any more.

Obtaining pertinent information from staff with knowledge of the issue was a prolonged process. In summary, it seems that the new system and software are working properly. The delay that has occurred reflects errors in the data that is being transferred from the old system, largely relating to the names of current owners of property. These errors should be corrected within the next few days, Council was told.

But what struck members was the fact that of the 41 million records, only 5500 were recognized as containing errors. And these errors related to only four municipalities. All the errors in one of these municipalities had now been corrected, staff said. So members asked with good reason why the bills could not be sent out to citizens in the municipalities – which included the major ones - where all errors had been eliminated?

Council decided to wait until Tuesday and if the issue lingers, the Auditor will be asked to be present at the Finance Committee meeting next Thursday. She will have few friends on Council.

Following up on the referendum question
Council member Rawl was responsible for placing the question on the referendum at the end of last year. And last night he was responsible for asking what action the Council was going to take?

The referendum question was Should Charleston County Council appoint a consolidated charter commission for the purpose of preparing a proposed charter to establish county-wide consolidation of local government function or functions? More than 60% of voters answered “yes”.

There was lengthy and at times arcane discussion of the issue. Some members were skeptical that significant consolidation could be achieved particularly with the large municipalities unwilling to give up responsibilities. But members also recognized that citizens had responded favorably to the question and their voices could not be ignored.

The arcane part of the discussion related to South Carolina law and as to how Council would proceed. The referendum question was not binding on proceeding with consolidation, only “advisory”. If Council chose to move ahead under the State Consolidated Government charter, there were mandatory obligations such as appointment of members to a commission, timing of a report, and a final referendum. Council clearly did want this.

In conclusion Chairman Pryor appointed 5 members of Council to a committee to make a preliminary assessment. The Council members were Rawl (Chair), Johnson, Qualey, Condon and Sass.

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