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City Council, September 25

No tax increase planned for 2013 budget
Changes in City Code relating to demolition on the Peninsula
Marc Knapp

The first of the 2013 budget workshops was held last night. And not surprisingly, it seems that 2013 will be another tough year, though taking the Mayor at his word, not tough enough to precipitate a tax increase.

CFO Bedard told Council that revenues and expenditures until the end of August were broadly in line with budget. He noted that revenue from most sources was at or slightly higher than budgeted with Building Permit revenue and Local Option Sales Tax showing solid increases. Tourism related revenues were also relatively strong. Although he expressed no concern about the course of property taxes, he noted that the County still had software issues which stood in the way of the City making assessments. He also said that most areas of expenditures are within budget and there are “no show stoppers right now”. The 2012 (January to December) budget is on a “steady course”.

The issues for 2013 are the increases in spending that need to be funded regardless. These add up to $3.6 million. And if you add essential IT software requirements and a COLA adjustment for staff, the total grows to $5.4 million. Business and other revenues sources are contributing more presently, but will overall revenue grow sufficiently in 2013 to cover these extra expenses? Mr. Bedard did not attempt to answer this question but certainly will be addressing it in subsequent work shops.

The $3.6 million of “must fund” increases are $1.3 million for employee health care, $0.6 million for police and fire personnel following expiration of Federal Grants, $0.2 million for County radio fees, $0.9 million for fuel and energy etc., and $0.6 million for debt servicing. The other two items – IT software and the COLA adjustment- could be excluded from the budget at the option of Council, CFO Bedard suggested.

With the combined revenues and expenditures of the General and Enterprise Funds running at about $154 million in 2012, the projected increase in spending for 2103 does not seem an insuperable problem particularly with some revenues sources strengthening. But there is a strong risk that employees may miss out of a COLA adjustment, in our view .

Redefining jurisdictions and demolition requirements
The major item on last night agenda was amendments to the Zoning Ordinance –in particular to redefine the jurisdiction of the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) and the Design Review Board (DRB), and to allow the BAR to review all applications for demolition of buildings older than 50 years as opposed to 75 years. Nobody rose in the public hearings to oppose the changes. Indeed, there was only support, in particular from the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society and some neighborhood associations. There was little discussion on Council and the amendment was approved unanimously.

Mr. Tim Keane, Director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, noted that the changes in jurisdiction were essentially swaps. Previously the DRB had authority over parts of the Upper Peninsula adjacent to areas under the jurisdiction of the BAR. The DRB would give up its authority over this area and would take over the jurisdiction of areas in West Ashley presently under the jurisdiction of the BAR. He also noted that the reduction in the age limit of structures marked for demolition on the Upper Peninsula brought the City’s ordinance into conformity with national preservation standards.

A question of responsibility
Complaints by some citizens about the facilities on Stoney Field and which serve Burke High School provoked some intense discussion on Council. The High School’s football team uses the field and the facilities that contain the bathrooms and changing rooms are poorly maintained. And in the view of the citizens that spoke last night, very poorly maintained. It was a disgrace that visiting teams had to use such facilities. They also spoke of the need for better playing fields for the school.

The issue of the maintenance of the facilities has come before Council before and it seemed a surprise that the issue still lingered. Nobody denied it was a problem. But who was responsible? Was it the County School Board or the City? From the serious look on the Mayor’s face, I’d guess that it is the City’s. I’d also say that the facilities will be properly maintained in future or there will be some irate Council members.

Council member Wilson used the discussion on the issue to remind Council of a request made some time ago for a comprehensive plan for the City’s sport and park facilities. Council member Alexander spoke in a similar vein though noted the budgetary constraints of anything very ambitious. CFO Bedard reminded Council that the City was creating a baseball field on Harmon Field which will be used by Burke High School. The cost was an estimated $900,000.

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