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City Council, December 1

City gets serious about flooding issues
2016 budgets for City, Accommodation Tax and Hospitality Fee passed
Marc Knapp

The Mayor’s request stirred much debate. But in the end, Council went along with his proposal to increase millage rates and extend the sunset clause for Franchise Fees. The ensuing funds would be used primarily for addressing drainage issues which were expected to become critical in future. Part of the Franchise Fee would also go to providing affordable housing.

In a letter to Council, the Mayor said, “Our topography being what it is, it is only prudent that we undertake planning for the rise in sea level that will occur over the next hundred years. This coupled with our experiences of the past weeks with the rainstorms and King tides has brought home to me just how necessary it is for us to accelerate efforts to improve drainage and mitigate flooding“. He went to request the millage rate dedicated to drainage be increased from 2 to 4. This will provide $2.2 million in 2016.

Presently, $500,000 is drawn from the Franchise Fee levied by the City on SCE&G and Berkeley Electric for drainage projects. This draw was to end in 2021 but at the request of the Mayor, the draw will be extended indefinitely. Beginning in 2o17, the City will also draw $300,000 a year from the Franchise Fee to help fund affordable housing.

In the discussion on the proposals, the Mayor stated that the funds derived from the millage rate increase and franchise fees were relatively modest and insufficient to fund major projects. They would be used to research and design projects preparatory to making requests for grants before state and federal bodies.

There was some heat in the questions from Council members. Some wanted more information of the cost of some of the projects that the Mayor had placed before Council. Some were critical as to the tardiness of the City in addressing drainage problems and wondered as to why it was only now the City was attempting to address them.

The Mayor responded saying that the City had worked its way through a number of projects and all were costly. The City was in far better shape now to handle flooding than it was say 20 years ago. He pointed to all the projects that had been undertaken and those that were underway. He was not drawn into making estimates for funding requirements for the future projects. Clearly the requirements would be substantial and until research and design was undertaken, we understand an estimate would be very speculative.

Despite the concern of some Council members, Council unanimously backed the Mayor’s proposals
Press Download file to see list of drainage projects, completed, in progress and proposed.

Council also passed the 2016 budgets for the City, Accommodations Tax and Hospitality Fees
Viewers can see the proposed 2016 budget for the General and Enterprise Funds by pressing Download file. The 2015 budget can be seen by pressing Download file. There is a 3% increase in General Fund spending projected for 2016.

Revenues for the State Accommodation tax were projected at $5.591 million, up from $5.236 million in the previous year. Most allocations were in line with last year. The Charleston Museum is to receive $250,000, Charleston Symphony $200,000, the Aquarium $200,000 and Spoleto $275,000. The biggest addition was DASH which is to receive $479,000 for trolley replacement in 2016.

Revenues from the Hospitality Fee were projected at $14.65 million compared with $14.312 million in the previous year. Much of the funds derived from the Fee are proscribed and the City has limited latitude in allocation. A major difference in 2016 compared to 2015 was $1.48 million for Gaillard Center operating costs. This compares with $800,000 in 2015. Spoleto Festival received $400,000 in 2015 but there was no allocation this year.

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