The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council, October 24

City getting serious about addressing flooding issues
Plan to cut electricity usage and costs
Marc Knapp

The agenda item was requested by Council members Gregorie and Wilson. It was a “Discussion regarding a $100 million drainage funding strategy”. Not all Council members spoke to the issue. But it was clear from last night’s discussion and that at previous Council meetings that something has to be done about flooding throughout the City. And it was also clear from last night’s discussion that the City is about to take bigger steps in funding mitigation and solutions.

Council member Gregorie led the discussion. He suggested a $100 million bond issue. The interest and amortization on the bonds would be about $8.1 million a year over a 30 year period and noted a number of potential sources of revenue. These included a small millage increase, drawing on the Stormwater Fund, and contributions from the Accommodation Tax and Hospitality Fund. He suggested an increase of 1 percentage point in the latter two taxes and these would have to be approved by the State. He also suggested a head tax on cruise ship visitors, and looked for funding from TIF districts.

Council member Moody supported Council member Gregorie but added the Local Option Sales Tax (LOT) as a source of funds. Presently, the City uses the tax to reduce property taxes but the Council member suggested that a small amount could be used for funding a bond. He also suggested an increase in Usage Fees, noting that non-profits don’t pay property taxes and in some respects get a free ride for City services.

Council member Waring also spoke in favor but added an increase in parking fees as a potential source. Council member Seekings also spoke of higher parking fees or enlarging the area where fees are charged. And would $100 million be enough? Last night and at earlier Council sessions, he suggested the cost of flood mitigation could be much higher- $2 billion? He also suggested that the City hire a full time grant writer and residency officer.

Mayor Tecklenberg was the final contributor to the discussion. He first said that the City had been working on the flooding issues for some time and noted the plans for the Church Creek Basin. He listed a number of potential revenue sources, most if not all of which has been noted by Council members.
Preparation for the 2018 budget is now underway. We expect that some of the suggestions made last night will be incorporated. The Mayor acknowledged that the budget will provide for the hiring of a full time grants writer and a sustainability officer.

The contract with Johnson Controls to cut electricity usage and costs was back on the agenda last night. It was on the agenda a month ago but voting was deferred until Council was provided with more information. Council members were still confused with some issues and once again, voting was deferred.

After the first meeting we wrote: The magnitude of the figures on the first item on the Ways and Means agenda got out attention. It obviously got Council members White’s as well. We shared his cynicism.

Essentially the item stated that the City would spend $13.2 million over the next 15 years to upgrade the energy and operational efficiency of the City’s facilities. The cost would be funded by the $17.6 million in “cost avoidance” over the period. In other words, the cost would be funded by energy savings. The program would be administered by Johnson Controls and by amending the 2001 contract between the company and the City.

“The scope of works includes improvements to 72 city facilities including … LED interior lighting upgrades and controls, Parking Garage lighting upgrades. R-22 equipment replacement, HVAC Building Controls improvements, chiller replacements, mechanical system upgrades, MLK new pool enclosure and upgrades etc….”

Council member White wondered why the HVAC systems installed in recent years, and they were a goodly number, would be replaced. They had a projected life of 15 years or more. He suggested that those installed within the last 10 years should remain. He also was skeptical about the cost savings projected. He said over the years, the City had moved to reduce energy costs but each year, despite projected savings, energy costs rose. Some other Council members were uneasy about the assumptions and the scope of work. So a decision on the item was deferred for staff and the Sustainability Committee to provide more clarity.

Council member White was still cynical about the contract last night. But the major issue for other Council members was work at the MLK pool, which was major. Should this work be included in the contract or separated? Initially it seemed that the Recreation Committee thought it should be but the Sustainability Committee thought not. So it seemed we had a conflict between Committees and some Council members were very upset. But, it was not as it seemed and a dispute was not intended. We cannot accurately describe the sequence of events that brought about the seeming conflict. But it is to be resolved by the next Council meeting when Council expects it will be able to vote on the issue.

Council member Wagner brought up the issue of Council member Riegel’s position on Council. It was contended that the Council member did not reside in the City or in his district, and under Council rules, he should not sit as a Council member. The issue was discussed at a Council meeting some months ago and Council decided to do nothing and let voters decide at the election next month. But Council member Wagner noted that issue was not fully or properly discussed at the earlier meeting. The meeting was very long and extended after 10 pm. Council members were tired and fatigued. The issue did not get proper consideration.

Mayor Tecklenberg seemed uncomfortable with the request to put the issue on last night’s agenda. He maintained that if a vote on the issue were intended, then a 2/3 majority was needed to place the item on the agenda. A vote was taken and 6 members were in support. As it was less than the required majority, the item did not make it on to the agenda.

The Mayor said that Council member Wagner could request the inclusion of the issue on the agenda of the next Council meeting. And so it will be, the Mayor said.

Council member Riegel is renting a dwelling in his district and claims residence. Some Council members and others, dispute that he is living there. They claim therefore that he is ineligible to sit or run for Council. The issue will be discussed about a week after the election in early November. And it may be moot after the election if voters decide in favor of his opponent. But the discussion on Council will be interesting and depending on the outcome, possibly fatal to the Council member’s plan to continue serving on Council.

Other items:

  • Council unanimously agreed to extend the building moratorium on James Island for a month. Further extension would be possible but the Mayor indicated that the City would have its policy ready before the final expiration of the moratorium.
  • FEMA will make a grant of $5.8 million to buy out property owners, mainly in the Bridge Pointe townhouse complex. The grant is conditional of a City match of $1.95 million. The Mayor told Council that the buyout was driven by economics. He noted that one property in the complex was appraised at $158,000 but the Flood Insurance payout to the owners over the last 3 years or so was about $300,000. The buildings on the property would be demolished and no new construction would be allowed.