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County Council, June 5

Small gains for tax payers in 2013 budget
No forgiveness of CARTA loan
Warwick Jones

The 2013 budget received its first reading at last night’s Council meeting. There were some changes to both the General Fund and the Transportation Sales Tax budgets presented to the Finance Committee Thursday last and not all Council members were in agreement.

Staff in its presentation last week sought a 2 mill increase, from 39.1 to 41.1 mills, for the General Fund to cover the anticipated shortfall between projected revenue and expenses. However, it noted that because of a likely increase in the receipts from the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), tax payers who live in their own homes would suffer only a small increase in tax liability. Notwithstanding, Council members were divided on the millage increase. Some wanted no increase, and some were happy to accept the staff recommendation.

When the General Fund came up for discussion last night, County Administrator Taylor proposed a 1.4 mill increase but the proposal by Council member Condon for only a 0.8 mill increase got all the attention. She said that the State was considering higher disbursements to municipalities which would ease the burden of the County. As well, the County could draw down a part of the Fund Balance to finance the projected deficit. She estimated that her proposal would allow a reduction of about $4.80 per $100,000 of assessed value for an owner occupied residence and about $0.40 per $100,000 for a commercial property.

Another 2 readings are necessary before the budget is passed so the vote last night does not write the proposed budget “in stone” and it could be reconsidered if more information is available on the State’s intentions. The budget with Council members Condon’s amendment was passed 5 to 3. Council members Darby, Johnson and Schweers voted against.

The other major budget issue related to the Transportation Sales Tax. Some 6 years ago, CARTA “borrowed” $7.5 million from accumulated Transportation Sales Tax revenues, to be repaid by from its future 18% entitlement of annual sales tax receipts. Repayments were to begin in Fiscal 2013 at $320,000 a year and continue over the life of the sales tax though at higher rates. Staff assumed in their budget preparation that the whole loan would be forgiven. Council members Schweers and Qualey were unhappy about this and sought full repayment. Council member Summey, the CARTA Chair and who was absent last night, sought forgiveness of the repayment for 2013 and we suspect of the total loan.

Council voted 6 to 2 to defer the payment for 2013 and to amortize the whole loan over the remaining life of the sales tax. Staff projected amortization payments would begin at about $340,000 a year and rise further in further years with the deferral of the amount due in 2013. Staff also noted that with the weakness of the economy over recent years, sales tax revenues had fallen and in 2013, were expected to return only to 2008 levels. In consequence of this, staff expected total revenues from the sales tax to amount to $1.2 billion over its life compared with the original $1.3 billion estimate.

SIG issue draws some 40 citizens
Not surprisingly a large number of citizens turned out to voice their views on the proposed Sea Island Greenway (SIG). The opponents and proponents were roughly matched at about 20 on each side. Most of the assembly probably planned to speak but Chairman Pryor in the interest of time asked that each side choose 3 speakers.

The comments were largely the same as in previous meetings. The SIG was needed because the existing roads are unsafe and will become more so when all the dwelling units that are planned are built on Johns Island. The SIG is the least expensive and the least disruptive of all of the possible road creation or widening options. The opponents rightly asked why the issue was before Council again so soon after it had been voted down. There were other options such as widening specific sections of some of the roads and dealing with the pressure points, namely the intersection of Highway 17 and Main Road, and Maybank Highway and River Road.

The issue comes before the Council again at its Finance Committee meeting on June 12.

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