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County Council, June 12

Referendum on bond issue to finance library expansion
Move to add 70 acres to Bees Ferry landfill operation
Warwick Jones

The Board of Trustees for the County Library (CCBOT) made its pitch before the Finance Committee last night to allow a referendum on a bond issue. The issue would raise up to $108.5 million and the funds, in the main, used to build 2 new branches, replace 3 existing branches, and renovate the remaining 13. The Committee approved the referendum, to be held in November, with only Council member Qualey opposed.

The CCBOT in a presentation to the Committee late last year noted the population growth in the County and the limited funding for the library system in recent years. Following on this presentation, the CCBOT held public meetings and sought public opinion on expansion. Last night, it summarized its plans formed in the wake of the hearings. They were:

  • Establish new branches at East Cooper/Carolina Park and Bees Ferry/Highway61

  • Construct new libraries to replace Cooper River Memorial, James Island, and St Pauls/Hollywood

  • Renovate the remaining 13 branches

  • Up grade technology, furniture etc. in all branches

  • Relocate support staff from main branch to free up space for other uses

The estimated cost of construction was $108.5 million. Servicing a bond issue of this amount was estimated to add 2.8 mils to property taxes, or $11.2 per $100,000 of the value of an owner occupied home. The addition to annual operating costs was estimated at $5.6 million and this would represent an addition to County taxes of 1.7 mils, or $6.8 per $100,000 of value.

Although there was a lot of discussion on the proposal, it was rather narrow, focused largely on the needs of those living on James Island and West Ashley. It was the original intention of the CCBOT to close the branch at East Windemere and to build a large branch in the Folly Road corridor. These plans were largely opposed by citizens. Council members also noted that the sites for the new libraries had not been determined. The CCBOT hoped that it would be able to secure cost free sites by partnering with schools or other entities.

Generally, Council members applauded the work of the Trustees. Council member Schweers complimented the Board on its efforts but added that his support did not mean he would vote for the bond issue in a referendum. He simply thought that the citizens should be allowed to vote on the issue. Council member Qualey was not so generous. He was concerned about the magnitude of the spending and the location of the new library on James Island. He voted to oppose the referendum.

We were disappointed in the discussion on Council at the completion of the presentation. Certainly there were questions about the location of the new branches but there was no analysis. The CCBOT may well be correct on its assessment of the library needs of the community, but citizens probably would like some assurance. Before committing to spending over $100 million on County libraries, shouldn’t Council enquire as to how well the libraries are patronized? Considering the easy access to the internet, are people using libraries less than in the past? And then there are the innovations such as “Kindle” that make book libraries redundant. How many citizens seek books from the library or simply videos? It should be noted that the number of bookstores in Charleston has declined in recent years and the decline is unlikely to be caused by greater usage of the County's libraries.

There may well have been citizens waxing exuberant over the prospect of better and larger libraries. But was this an exuberant minority, or a representation of the majority? I guess a referendum will provide an answer.

I also question how well the libraries are managed. I began reading Shelby Foote’s “Civil War – A Narrative“, taking out one volume at a time from the County library. But halfway through the series, I discovered volumes were missing. The library had to go to another County to borrow the missing volumes. Considering Charleston’s role in the Civil War and that Shelby Foote is probably the most highly acclaimed authority on the war, an incomplete set of the history does not speak well of our library.

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We thought that the presentation and request of Council member Sass last night made a lot of sense. It related to the acquisition of land abutting the Bees Ferry landfill. The acquisition of 70 acres on the northern side of the fill could be used to relocate composting and allow the creation of another cell on the existing composting site in which to deposit waste. As well, a larger buffer could be created between the fill and future residential development.

The cost of the site is to be negotiated but it seems the asking price is about $6.5 million. As Council member Summey pointed out, and with support from other Council members, this was a small price to pay for a significant increase in the life of the Bees Ferry landfill. Not all Council members agreed but in a 5 to 4 vote, the Finance Committee instructed staff to work with the seller and prepare a contract for approval by Council.

There were no details about the issue in the public information packet. But Council was told that the owners of the Long Savannah property had made the offer to the County. Council member Sass opined that the 450 acre land fill was the County’s major asset. It had a life of another 25 to 30 years. Council member Summey also noted the value of the landfill. It cost the County about $18 a ton to dispose of waste there. This compared with about $36 a ton for disposal in Dorchester County. He speculated that the cost of disposal in Dorchester County would jump dramatically if the Bees Ferry site were filled. The extension of the land fill would be a considerable saving for the County in the long term.

There was also the issue of buffers. Presently there is none or a minimal buffer on the northern side of the land fill. The necessity of a large buffer was debated. Presently, residential development is some distance from the land fill. But it would ultimately creep up to the boundary of the land fill. So what, said some Council members? The land fill was there first. Doesn’t matter, said others – there still will be opposition to the land fill. And if this were the case, the County should buy the land on offer to create a significant buffer. And to add to the confusion, the mandatory width of a buffer zone between a landfill and residential development was awaiting a court decision. The County Planning Director claimed 100’ was all that was necessary whereas a previous court decision said it must be 1000’.

Council members Darby, Johnson and Chairman Pryor were not happy about the proposed deal. Where was the money coming from? Technology may enable a larger percentage of waste to be recycled and the life of the land fill further extended, making the proposed purchase unnecessary. It seems that few members agreed with this view. Council member Rawl also was unhappy about the proposal and suggested that the County would be unable to get the necessary permitting to incorporate the 70 acres into the land fill.

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