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County Council, December 1

West Ashley TIF district approved
Resolution needed on Community Investment funding

Warwick Jones

It wasn’t a surprise. Mayor Tecklenberg did what was requested and the Finance Committee approved the West Ashley Tax Increment Financing district in the City of Charleston.

Council at its last meeting was not happy about the terms of the proposed TIF and the absence of specific information on the provision of affordable housing. It indicated that it wanted a 20 rather than a 25-year term. And although there was no indication at last night’s meeting as to what information had been provided about affordable housing, the Finance Committee voted 6 to 2 for approval.

We’d note that Council member Darby was absent last night. He voice was loudest at the previous meeting about the provision of affordable housing. There were no questions about it last night.

Council members Schweers and Qualey opposed the TIF. As in the previous meeting, they thought that the area was not blighted, and that sales tax money could be used to help build infrastructure. They also noted the strong economy and questioned the need for assistance. Council member Qualey also thought that some areas were booming and instanced the large number of development projects proposed or underway.

We think that Council members Schweers and Qualey were right but they failed to move fellow Council members. It was also noted last night that the County School District had approved the TIF.

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We’re often at odds with Council member Rawl’s views. But we admire his logic and his ability to sum up issues. Some time his conclusions are so tightly reasonable, we wonder why other Council members continue to debate them. The Council member is the Chair of the Administration Policy/Rules Committee and last night the Committee discussed but did not vote on two issues before it.

The first item was a request from Council member Johnson. She wanted advance notice of executive sessions, and their nature. And if an executive session were to be held, it should be placed last on the agenda so members of the public who came to hear debate on other issues, would not have to suffer a long wait and be inconvenienced.

We thought the wording proposed by the Chair was very reasonable for it met the request of Council member Johnson, but also allowed flexibility to deal with the need for an executive session when it unexpectedly arose. Notwithstanding, there was discussion and in our view, needless. A vote was not taken but the item will be up for a vote at the next meeting of the Committee and we’d expect strong support.

The second item was concerning. It related to the allocation of funds under the County’s Community Investment program. The issue of allocations has been around for some years, gone through a number of reiterations but still lacks resolution. Chairman Rawl noted that if there were no resolution, the allocations would fall back to the very old system where by the funds available would be divided equally amongst the nine Council members who would then determine the distribution. Presently the yearly sum total for allocation is $300,000.

Before the Committee were suggestions by the Chair. He looked for comments and suggestions but he got few. He suggested that eligibility be confined to 501 c3 organizations, and he proposed a matrix for staff to determine the worthiness of applicants and a screening system to disqualify applicants who received funds from other government bodies.

Whether indecision will rule and Chairman Rawl’s prediction of falling back to the old system will be realized remains to be seen. We hope that something will be sorted out to take politics out of the allocation process. But not all shared our view. Council member Pryor indicated that he preferred to have the old system where Council members determined specific allocations. Although Council Chair Summey did not necessarily agree with Council member Pryor, he said it was impossible to completely remove politics from the process.

Again, Chairman Rawl indicated that the issue would be up for a vote at the next meeting of the Committee. We think there will be a lot of discussion and contention. But we hope for resolution because a reversion to the old system is likely to cause even more dissent and rancor, and more importantly, questions of fairness and favor.

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