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City Council, September 8

CARTA 2016 budget approved
Highest bond ratings for the City, again!

It was the first meeting after the summer break. In retrospect, it was a meeting we could have missed with non-business items taking up most of the time.

The 2016 budget for CARTA was on the schedule and it was approved unanimously. There was no discussion after the presentation by Mr. Ron Mitchum, the executive director of Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments. He spoke of the work being undertaken by his group in relation to planning and control, and also of the need to replace the aging bus fleet. Only Council member Riegel had a question. What was being done to collect contributions from those municipalities that were not contributing to CARTA? After some “ums and ahs”, it seemed that only the Cities of North Charleston and Charleston were making direct contributions, along with the County. Council was told that it would need approval from the Legislative Delegation to collect from the municipalities, and to us it seemed uncertain as to whether this would be forthcoming.

We have not solicited the response from the reluctant municipalities but we suspect one would be that their citizens contribute to the half- cent sales tax which is the back bone of CARTA’s revenues. And some of the municipalities could also argue that the service is not important for their communities.

For the record, operating revenue of CARTA for the year to September 30, 2016 is projected at $19.0 million, down 6% from the $20.13 million projected for 2015. Sales tax revenue is projected at $7.36 million, down slightly from the previous year’s $7.46 million and fare box revenue is projected steady at $2.7 million.

The big changes are in the Capital accounts. Revenue is projected at $10.4 million, up 28% from the previous year’s $8.1 million. Asset sales accounted for $5.9 million last year and this year are expected to bring in $2.8 million. But the shortfall in asset sales will be more than made up by Federal Government grants of $5.1 million, up from $1.4 million last year. Outlays in the Capital Account included a provision of $7.2 million last year for Intermodal Infrastructure construction. It is in this year’s accounts as well. But this year there is the addition of $2.65 million for fleet vehicles.

Citizens Participation brought out a number of speakers. Some continued to criticize the sales of alcoholic beverages at the café proposed for Hampton Park, the need for affordable housing, and help for the East Side. We were taken by one speaker who lauded Mayor Riley and asked whether the Mayor would tell us all what he planned in retirement. I won’t say the Mayor was flustered but I think he was taken a back. He responded that he was uncertain as to taking up time in Citizens Participation. Possibly reflecting that only good will was behind the question, he answered briefly but very graciously, stating he planned to simply be a citizen and enjoy life in the wonderful City of Charleston, find ways to serve the community, teach at the Citadel and work with students.

It is of course good news. Though as it is only what we have come to expect from the City, it is barely treated as such. I refer to the AAA and aaa bond ratings of Standard and Poors, and Moodys respectively for the City’s last bond issue. The low interest rates that accompany these ratings save the City considerably in the cost of funding. Reports were also made last night by the External and Internal Auditors. Both reports were clean though the auditors heaped at lot more in their presentations.

Sometimes, no, often, I think a 2 or 3 minute limitation should be placed on the comments of Council members, similar to that imposed on speakers during Citizens Participation. Not all are guilty of being long winded. But often comments are excessive. Some Council members feel if there is praise, it must be effusive. Yes, there are some situations where effusive praise is justified. But like many standing ovations, many situations are not so deserving.

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