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County Council, March 22

County to support plan to improve libraries
Handouts for museums and CVB from Accommodation Tax Funds
Warwick Jones

The County Public Library Board had its day in the sun before the Finance Committee yesterday. The Chair of Library Board reminded the Committee that County libraries had been victims of austerity in recent years and spending in many areas were below levels mandated by the State. Indeed, the austerity adopted by the County had deprived the County’s libraries of $900,000 over the last 3 years. Something needed to be done, Chair Segal told the Committee. The deficiencies in spending had to be addressed as well as the considerable future needs of the library system. All the members of the Committee agreed.

Chair Segal asked the Committee to support its 4 point plan – 1) To accept the Library Board vision and goals, for the staff of the County and the library to work together to 2) Assess the needs relating to property, construction, renovation etc., and to 3) Assess the costs of the defined needs. 4) The County should consider the results of 2) and 3) by January 2013 and the fiscal requirements included in the Capital Improvement Plan and the General Fund 5 year Plan. Chair Segal also spoke of a referendum to approve a bond issue to finance construction of new libraries, and also a millage increase to finance the expansion of facilities.

Council member Condon was the first to endorse the request and made the motion to accept the proposals and after some discussion, the Committee unanimously voted to adopt Chairman Segal’s proposals. There seemed no disagreement with anything that Chair Segal proposed. Most of the discussion revolved about the timing of a referendum on a bond issue. Some Council members suggested that it be placed on the ballot at the end of this year but County Administrator Taylor and some Council members thought this was an unrealistic proposal because of inability to meet certain statutory deadlines. There was also an issue as to whether it could be placed on a ballot in 2013. County Administrator Taylor pointed out that accepting the proposals did not commit the County to any financings. He also told Chair Segal that the County was addressing some of the shortfall in statutory spending over the last 3 years in the upcoming budget.

Predictably, Chair Segal spoke strongly about the benefits of a strong library system. She noted the overwhelming support by the citizens of the County. She also noted that there were some areas of the County with inadequate library facilities, particularly East of the Cooper. These areas of deficiency had to be addressed. The County also had to be mindful of the strong expansion within the community and the likelihood that this expansion would continue, bringing with it the need for more library facilities. She also spoke of upgrading technology to enable the self-checking of books, and the provision of more computers.

Higher anticipated revenues from Accommodation Tax quickly dispersed
A month or so ago, presentations were made by the Charleston Museum, the Gibbes Museum and the Medal of Honor Museum in support for allocations from Accommodation Tax funding. Yesterday they got their reward. And in the case of the Medal of Honor Museum, it may be more than it asked for.

The starting point is the higher estimated Accommodation Tax-derived funds available this year than first projected. The increase amounts to $500,000 and will lift the projected total to $10.54 million. The original projected amount, $10.04 million is already committed. Some Council members wanted to give out most of the increase but staff reminded them that statutory requirements or commitments – essentially to municipalities, County funds and the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) - would take $170,000 of this amount.

As directed, staff worked on a way of splitting the $330,000 balance amongst the 3 applicants that made the presentations and also the CVB which was also seeking higher funding. The recommendations were:

CVB – Grant of $189,000 for FY2012. Its request was for an increase in its share of Accommodation Tax revenues from 10% to 12.5% or 15%. Acceptance would have lifted its extra entitlement in FY 2012 to between $263,750 and $527,100.

Gibbes Museum - Grant of $25,000 for FY2012 but commitment of $25,000 in FY 2103 and FY2014 and $225,000 in 2015. Its request was for $300,000 over 5 years.

Charleston Museum – Grant of $90,000 in FY2012 and a commitment of $90,000 in FY2013. Its request was for $362,000.

Medal of Honor Museum - Grant of $26,000 in 2012. Its request was for $26,000.

Considering its magnitude, it was interesting there was no discussion of the CVB request. The increase was sought by the CVB to boost its advertising budget.

Council member Darby sought $100,000 for the Medal of Honor Museum. He noted the museum had asked for only a portion of the amount that it needed and the extra amount would enable it to complete its program. Council member Schweers took issue and pondered why Council would give an entity more than it asked for? The matter will come before Council on Tuesday night for fuller discussion

Presumably, staff will advise Council where it might derive funds if it plans to support Council member Darby’s request. We don’t know what staff will recommend but we suspect it will note that the County has some commitments in relation to future allocations. The last few years have been tight and some recipients, to whom promises had been made, did not receive their full commitments. It is likely Council will seek to fulfill its past promises. The question is whether Accommodation Tax derived revenues rise sufficiently to meet future commitments as well as those of the past?

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