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County Council, March 17

Stormwater Fee to double
Cameras to monitor traffic on beach access roads. Why?
Warwick Jones

Two issues that had been discussed at previous meetings were voted on last night by the appropriate Committees – a higher Stormwater Fee and the Community Investment Policy.

The Finance Committee viewed a presentation two weeks ago relating to the need for a higher Stormwater Fee. In summary, the need was primarily to meet new regulations imposed by DHEC. But there were other needs in the County such as clearing ditches, creating canals. At that meeting some Council members claimed that much of the latter was the function of Public Works and thereby should be funded out of the General Fund.

Last night, there was yet another presentation by the County’s consultant indicating the anticipated revenue and opportunities if the fee per Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) were raised to $48, $58 or $72 per year. It is presently $36.

The $48 fee generated insufficient revenue to cover projected costs of about $3 million next year and beyond. The $48 fee was projected to cover all costs but only just. The $72 fee however, would cover projected costs but also allow an approximate $1 million surplus and create an opportunity to do more, and in particular mitigate the impact of future flooding.

Again last night, some Council members were unhappy about any fee above the $58 level and for the same reasons, the needed extra revenue should come out of the General Fund. But they did not prevail in the vote. The Committee voted to adopt the $72 fee. As the consultant noted, the higher fee would allow the hiring of a 10 member team and necessary equipment to better handle much of the likely future storm water issues. And as Council member Johnson noted with the concurrence of staff, the County was still struggling to emerge from the impact of the heavy rains in early October.

The new fee will be applied to properties only in the unincorporated area of the County and some smaller municipalities. The major municipalities have their own stormwater fees and all are much more than that presently of the County. However, at $72, the new fee will be amongst the highest in the County and equal to that of the City of Charleston.

Much of the discussion by the Administration Policy/rules Committee relating to the Community Investment Policy was similar to that at its last meeting. Just about everybody was in agreement that a policy was needed. But did it go far enough, who did it embrace, how did it compare with the Accommodations Tax (AT) distribution policy, what about mid- year distributions?

Staff made a presentation making some comparison with the AT but noted that the distribution of the tax was confined to only those entities serving the accommodation and tourism industries. The entities applying for funds from the Community Grants would need to meet different criteria but still need to meet requirements relating to nature, purpose, transparency, reporting and auditing, source of other funds and the application process.

There was some discussion about mid- year distributions and how they would be considered. But this became moot in the final vote with an amendment that there be no mid-year allocations.

So the Committee agreed to the proposed Policy and with the amendment that no mid-year distribution would be considered. Only Council member Darby voted against the Policy, probably because he was not happy with no mid-year consideration. As we understand, Council will determine at budget time, the amount of funds that will be set aside for outside agencies, likely to be around $500,000.

Allocations to those applying will be determined on merit. Certain “outside agencies” receive allocations from the General and Enterprise Funds directly and will not qualify for allocations from the Community Fund. The names of these entities are shown in the budget documents and will continue to be so.

The Committee’s decision will come before Council on Tuesday evening.

Sometimes we would like to jump up at Council meeting and ask a question. Last night was one of those occasions. The issue was a request from Mount Pleasant, the Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island for financing the installation of traffic cameras on major beach access roads. The purpose was to allow travelers and others to see, after acquiring the appropriate app, the traffic flow and congestion on these roadways. Some Council members wondered why the Accommodation Tax was not a more appropriate source of funding. And Council member Qualey wanted to know why Folly Beach was not included in the list of recipients

Council ultimately was sympathetic to the request with the amendments that Folly Beach be added to the recipients of funds, and that funds would not be used for maintenance and administration. Council expects SCDOT to take on this responsibility. Approval was given to spending up to $100,000, the money coming from the Transportation Sales Tax.

Our question was why? Traffic condition are available in real time on Google maps. Maybe there are no pictures of the actual conditions but in this writer’s view, the maps and detail are sufficient to meet the needs of travelers along these roads. The maps are easily accessible on cell phones and pads. And the deep red of traffic congestion is not easily missed. Traffic conditions on surrounding roads are also shown.

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