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County Council, January 23

Discussion deferred on limiting term limits for County Chair
Library Board wants $100 million. County approves a referendum
Warwick Jones

The cold weather did little to encourage attendance at last night’s meetings. There were fewer than usual of both attendees and Council members. The absence of Council members Darby and Summey prompted deferral of an interesting issue before Administration/Policy Rules Committee (APRC) - allowing the Chair of Council to serve for only two consecutive years. Presently, the Chair is elected at the beginning of each year and assuming re-election each year, can continue to serve indefinitely. Up for discussion was whether a Council member could be elected Chair for a third consecutive year.

There was no discussion. The two absent Council members were members of the APRC. Their absence left only three members of the Committee to deliberate. Council member Rawl, Chair of the Committee rightly thought appropriate to defer discussion until all members could attend.

The Committee also discussed at length whether to allow all members of Council to vote on the appointment to Boards and Committees. Nobody disagreed that voting at the APRC level should allow the participation of all Council members and not just the Committee members. But how do you allow for this- break up the Committee into two subcommittees, change the rules of the Sub Committee, etc.?

Council member Condon came to the rescue with an easy solution. Take the appointments out of the hands of the APRC and place it entirely in the hands of the Finance Committee It was said, agreed and done!!

Council Chair Pryor noted at the conclusion and at other times last night that the change related only to appointments. All the other rules pertaining to APRC would continue. The ability of a Committee to stop an issue coming before a full Council in certain circumstances has been an issue for some, particularly Council members Schweers and Qualey. It probably still is an issue but not so urgent now that County Attorney Dawson no longer heads Solid Waste. Both Council members were unhappy about his dual role and remuneration but had difficulty getting the issue before full Council.

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Expanding and upgrading the County’s library system has not been an issue before Council in recent times. Mention was made at the time of the budget session last year that the Library Board was asking for the best part of $90 million to spend on its libraries. But to our knowledge, no provision was made in the budget though staff noted that if a bond issue were on the cards, a referendum must be held.

Expansion and upgrading are clearly issues for the Library Board. The Finance Committee last night agreed to allow a referendum on the issues though it retained the right to determine the referendum wording. All Finance Committee members present approved the referendum though some said this did not commit them to supporting the request of the Library Board. Council member Qualey also noted his discomfort that the public was unaware as to what the Library Board planned and that to date there had been no public discussion. We would add that Council members had seen the presentation by the Board but it or any summary was not in the agenda information package available to the public. The presentation was scheduled to be made at last night’s meeting but Council members agreed screening was not necessary as all had seen it.

We obtained a copy from the County and it can be seen by pressing download file .We note that the following is only the initial request by the Library Board. The Board says it will move to gain input and support from the public in coming weeks before again appearing before Council. We presume Council will look hard at the numbers and plans before agreeing to any dollar figure for a bond issue.

The Board requested that Council:

  • Approve placing a question on the November 2014 ballot, allowing voters to consider a bond referendum of up to $103.8 million for the construction and renovation of Charleston County Public Library facilities, which may include:
  • Construction of four new libraries; :
  • Renovation of 12 existing facilities, including expansion of St. Andrews Regional; and:
  • Relocation of current support staff from existing high-value space in the Main Library to a separate location, freeing up existing support staff space for public use. :
  • Instruct County and Library staff to: :

  • Complete a detailed review of all costs to confirm final numbers; and:
  • Return to Council by June with the final construction plan and costs plus the wording for the proposed referendum question that will be sent to the Board of Elections and Voter Registration for placement on the November 2014 ballot. :

The Board estimates that to finance a bond issue to cover construction and upgrading costs would require a millage increase of 3. However, there would also be an increase in annual operating costs and this would necessitate a further millage increase of 1.4. The millage increases total 4.4 and the Board estimates that these increases would amount to $17.60 a year per $100,000 of an “owner occupied home”. (The percentage impact will vary with households and location within the County. For this writer, a resident of the City, the increase amounts to about 4% over the 2012 total property tax charge. It would amount to a 10% increase in the County’s share of the total.)

The Board in its presentation put forward a strong argument why spending on libraries needs to be increased. And maybe members of Council and ultimately the public will agree. But will they agree to a 4.4 millage increase? The wounds of the last recession are still bleeding for many. The investments of Boeing and others are helping to restore prosperity to the region. But there is still some way to go before all the wounds are healed. And for some, any millage increase will be a burden.

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