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County Council, April 7

Placating the SIB on I-526 funding
More help for well and septic upgrades for low income households
Warwick Jones

As expected, the resolution on I-526 drew many citizens to the Finance Committee meeting last evening. A number rose to speak, both for and against the completion of the project, and in our view nothing new was said. We think they were wasting their breath. The resolution before the Committee did nothing to advance the completion of the project but perhaps something to stop it sinking into oblivion. And the full Council at a special meeting at the close of the Finance Committee session approved the resolution with a 5 to 3 vote. Council members Condon, Qualey and Schweers were opposed and Darby abstained.

It was the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) that prompted the resolution. At a meeting last year, it effectively said that unless the County came up with a plan to fund the difference between the cost of the I-526 completion – roughly $770 million - and the $420 million pledged by the Bank, it would pull the pledged funding. And the deadline for the submission of the plan was the end of last month.

There was a lot of howling by Committee members about the Bank’s action and the injustice. But the resolution clearly stated that in the original Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA), the County was committed to providing the funding shortfall. But it also indicated that the scope of the project could be changed to conform with available funding. And some Council members questioned why the scope could not be altered and why a Plan was necessary when there was no mention of such a plan in the IGA.

No doubt the issues with the SIB will continue. But the County wanted to signal “good faith” and the resolution was that signal. The resolution before Council last night stated that the County “may explore funding” from a number of sources. The resolution and this paragraph can be seen by pressing Download file. The sources of funding cited included an implementation of a toll road, a transportation sales tax referendum, and the City of Charleston (the Mayor of the City spoke at the meeting and supported the completion of I-526).

There was unease even amongst some of the Council members who supported the resolution. But as Council member Rawl pointed out, this was only a resolution. It did not commit the County in any way and there was no financial obligation.

So now, will the SIB consider the passing of the resolution after its deadline date as meeting its requirements?

The Finance Committee got a lot of information that it probably didn’t need when staff responded to an earlier request to detail options to provided Wadmalaw residents with cleaner water. At a meeting about a month ago, a number of the island’s residents complained about the quality of their well water. Testing indicated that the waters were not polluted but had high mineral content. In an immediate response, the County provided a tap from which resident could fill their own containers. This will continue. But it will now be supplemented by the availability of greater funding for wells and septic systems, County wide. The funding will be drawn from HUD and available only to low income residents. The original funding amounted to $200,000 a year but, in a unanimous decision, will be increased to $466,000.

Staff told the Committee that the cost of providing water drawn from Charleston Water Systems or Johns Island Water would be about $71,000 a household. There was an issue as to whether this amount included a tap fee – connecting the main line to a house. This tap fee was about $3000 and in our view, was irrelevant considering the magnitude of the other costs.

Then there was the other alternative of connecting up portions of the overall community to local wells. This would reduce the cost of laying pipelines but the cost would still be substantial. Anyhow, at an estimated cost per household of over $80,000, it was still academic.

Staff told the Committee that there was a waiting list of about 70 for HUD funds for wells and septic
systems. Of this total, 20 related to residences on Wadmalaw. The cost of upgrading wells and septic systems was about $10,000 a household. So theoretically at least, the extra funding will cut the waiting list sharply. However, staff noted that there were few companies offering drilling services in the County and this had created a problem.

Other items of interest were;

  • A decision to raise the minority participation goals for hiring and procurement from 20% to 25%. The County set goals in 2007 for positions where earnings exceeded $50,000 a year, and for discretionary procurement items. Staff told the Committee that over the years the minority participation had grown and was now exceeding the original goals. Staff thought that an increase to 25% was appropriate. It was vehemently supported by Council member Darby who noted that African Americans alone represented about 33% of the County’s population and the definition of minorities for the purpose of the goal included women and other minority groups. As he and others noted, these percentages were aspirational. They did not make it a commitment of the County.

  • Monthly parking fees in the County garages in the City of Charleston are to be raised at the beginning of next month. The new rates for the Cumberland Street garage are $125, Monday to Friday; and $160, for 24/7. The old rates were $120 and $140 respectively. For King and Queen Streets, the Monday to Friday rate would rise to $145 and the 24/7 rate, to $195. The old rates were $140 and $175 respectively

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