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County Council, July 14

Draft of Sales tax referendum ballot presented
MRF contracts to be awarded
Warwick Jones

With Council meetings only once a month in summer, agendas can be long. Yesterday’s agendas were not lengthy, but the meetings were long. The most interesting item discussed was not on the agenda – the half cent sales tax referendum.

More or less midway through the Finance Committee session, discussion hit an impasse. Staff were asked to retrieve a document to resolve an issue. Chairman Summey, to fill in the time while we all waited, distributed a document to be fully discussed at the special meeting of Council on Tuesday. The document was a draft of the referendum questions. He said he was distributing it so Council members could have more time to consider the issue before Tuesday. Viewers should press Download file to see the document

In summary, the proposed new sales tax will raise $2.1 billion over a life of 25 years. Of the total, $1.366 billion will be dedicated to roads, $609 million to mass transit and $125 million to greenbelts. As in the last sales tax, bond issues would be made to secure money immediately with interest and amortization coming for the sales tax proceeds. The document also noted some of the roads that would be financed- Airport area roads, Dorchester road widening, US 17 at Main Road, and, surprise, the I -526 extension.

There were about 10 members of the public that rose to speak in the public comments period. Most were not happy about the sales tax and were also very unhappy about the inclusion of I-526. None had a comment about the large allocation to CARTA, or, relative to the previous half cent sales tax, the small allocation to Greenbelts.

What was distributed last night was a draft and almost certainly, there will be changes proposed at the Council meeting on Tuesday evening. And most likely, there will be many members of the public attending the meeting with a wide range of views. I-526 will be the most controversial but we’d hazard a guess that the item will stay on the ballot. We’d expect some hostility to the large allocation to CARTA but we’d also expect the allocation to remain large. A better public transport system is needed if we are to overcome traffic woes. And greenbelts? Everybody wants more greenspace but not as much as better roads and less congestion. So we’d guess it will stay around where it is.

We also note that Council member Qualey was not happy about the limited amount of time available for Council to consider all the issues. All very well to have the meetings on Tuesday but to vote on the issue at that time was unreasonable. He is probably correct, but we suspect there are legal issues that get in the way if the referendum decision is deferred.

Other items from last night;

  • The Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) project made advances. And about time we thought Council member Condon sighed! Progress has been slow to non-existent over recent years but last night Council gave the go ahead to staff to begin negotiations for contracts on the construction at the site in North Charleston and for the actual facility. The projects were bid out and there were a number of responses. Details of the bids were not available to the public. Any agreement with a contractor needs to be legally reviewed and to come back to Council before final approval.

  • Distributions from this year’s Accommodation tax were approved. A total of $300,000 is to be distributed and the recipients are not dissimilar to previous years. The largest amount went to the Aquarium ($29,000) followed by Spoleto ($21,600), Gibbes Museum ($17,800), and SEWE ($16,600).

  • Council also approved a resolution submitted by Council member Darby to support a ban on the sale of “assault style weapons”. In his presentation, he noted the role of assault weapons in most of the recent slayings, in the US and Europe. Council member Rawl was generally in agreement with the resolution but he suggested that assault style weapons be better defined. He suggested “semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines”. As he noted, automatic weapons were already banned. The resolution would be sent to the Governor and State Legislature, and to the Federal Authorities. Council approved the resolution with the amendment though Council members Schweers and Qualey abstained from voting. Chairman Summey, who confessed some time ago to owning an assault style weapon, hesitated in his support but ultimately yielded.

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