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County Council, September 8

A flyover on Highway 17 at Main Road? It will cost $50 million
Problems in financing I-526
Warwick Jones

The Finance Committee wrestled with the problem of flooding and traffic congestion on Main Road and Highway 17. Probably all thought that a flyover on Highway 17 was the way to go but some baulked at the estimated cost - $50 million. Where was the funding? The County would be hard pressed to provide the funds, it was the State and Federal responsibility, even if the State promised funds, should it be relied on? The Committee ultimately decided to table the issue and tasked staff to seek further information.

There was some urgency in the discussions. Heavy rains caused flooding in the area which in turn led to severe congestion for motorists travelling to and from Johns Island. The super street plan, discussed a few years ago was supposed to alleviate the problem but the plan failed to move ahead. The funding was there but because of opposition to the plan by local residents, the SC Department of Transport dragged its feet in implementing the plan.

Council members Schweers and Johnson were the loudest in their concern about funding. The latter was amazed that after proper consideration of the super street, the Committee was now turning to a far more expensive alternative. How frequent was the flooding that occurred? As Chairman Summey parried, it was a 50 year event which had occurred a number of times in his 38 years.

Council member Pryor was reluctant to put County tax payers on the hook for the cost of the flyover. He expressed no trust in the State providing or promising funds. He instanced the perfidy of the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) changing its mind in providing funding for I- 526.

Staff said that if the County wished to construct the flyover, construction was unlikely to commence before 2018. Not only was there the issue of finance, but studies had to be undertaken and permits and Rights of Way obtained. The super street however could be completed by the summer of 2016 and at a cost of about $1.5 million.

The discussion on the flyover also raised the question of the future of I-526. Original funding for extending the highway was to come from the SIB. But considering the delays in approval and perhaps other factors, the projected cost exceeded the initial funding provision. The SIB indicated that it would provide the extra $130 million needed but according to Council member Pryor, this funding is no longer available. The SIB has decided to divert the funds to other projects in state.

The future of I-526 in the light of the SIB decision was not discussed last night. But it seems certain to be discussed in future.

And speaking of highways and roads, Chairman Summey asked staff to canvass the municipalities in the County for their view of another half-cent sales tax. Considering their desire to spend money, wed assume that all will be in favor. But the issue will be on the direction of spending. Chairman Summey has often spoke of the urgent need for new roads and wed expect the municipalities to share his view. So most likely, the lions share of the tax would go on roads. But what of CARTA and greenbelts? There was a lot of opposition to funding CARTA and to blunt this, funding for CARTA was rolled into Transportation which bundled CARTA and Roads together.

Whatever the view of the municipalities, it will be some years before we are likely to see a new sales tax. There are legal steps that have to be climbed not the least of which is a referendum. And can we have two transportation half-cent sales taxes running concurrently?

Owners may be surprised shortly to see that for property tax purposes their properties have been revalued. According to state law, property values need to be reassessed every 5 years. But those of us that count will observe that the last was only 4 years ago. The last reevaluation was delayed a year because of the burden placed on the County of the reassessment process. But this year, there will be catchup.

The last evaluation was based on property values at the end of 2008. The next evaluation will be on values at the end of 2013. But as indicated in the presentation to the Finance Committee last night, there is no cause for concern. Differing from the years 2003 to 2008, there was not a substantial rise in values across the County.

The average increase was 7% for the County in the latest 5 year period with Mount Pleasant leading municipalities with a 10% increase. In the previous 5 year period, increases of 30% or so were common.

So considering the way property taxes are calculated and recalibrated, there should be no major changes in individual property taxes. Those in Mount Pleasant may see a modest increase and those elsewhere a modest decrease. However, increases could be more than modest, though less than 15%, if the last (2008) assessment was capped at 15%. The increase this year will be again capped at 15%. The tax assessment is first based on market values. If the market value goes up say 30 per cent in the first 5 years and stays steady in the second 5 years, the assessment at the end of year 10 will be based on the market value at that time. Theoretically the assessed value could rise 15% in the second 5 year period even though the property value remains only steady.

Notices of the new valuations will go out within the next few weeks and will be shortly followed by the tax bills.

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