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City Council, December 11

No tax increases for 2018
But a taxing meeting for attendees
Warwick Jones

It was a frustrating and painful day for those of us that attend Council meetings.

The Ways And Means meeting was scheduled to begin at 3.30 pm, an hour earlier than normal. Shortly after the meeting began, members adjourned for an executive session. We are not sure when they returned for we gave up and left the chamber at about 6 p.m. Who knew when the meeting would end? The business of Ways and Means was unfinished and there was still the City Council agenda to be dealt with. It was a cold night, the seats were hard, and patience was exhausted. Besides, we could view the video of the meeting on the City web site.

Ha! The video was available on U tube but there was no sound for most of the Ways and Means, and much of the Council meeting. So we have drawn on Abigail Darlington’s reporting in the P&C.

But firstly, more on last night. During Mayor Riley’s tenure, we cannot remember an executive session that was held during a Ways and Means or a Council session. To the best of our recollection, there has only been one other during the tenure of Mayor Tecklenberg. It was out of the ordinary that the Way and Means began an hour earlier than normal, and extra ordinary, that the executive session took well over 2 hours.

So what was discussed in the executive session? The agenda noted the following

  • Update on Gaillard litigation
    Discussion relating to contract/consultant matters (Waring)
    Discussion relating to a personnel matter (Wilson)
    Discussion and legal advice relating to Hospitality fees and Tourism ticket fees (Waring)

Whether any statement was made on the outcome of the session, we cannot tell as the video was literally silent. Given the nature of executive sessions, it unlikely that much was revealed for the benefit of the public. But considering the length of the session, there must have been some major issues.

From the P&C. Charleston residents won't see higher property taxes next year but their monthly water bills will be $2 higher to fund more drainage improvements

Council approved the 2018 budget with a total operating fund of $211.9 million, up $12.3 million from last year. The Stormwater Fund which is specifically dedicated for drainage improvements was approved for $8.9 million. That is $2 million more than the City budgeted for drainage last year. Even with the beefed-up budgets, Council avoided raising property taxes by trimming expenses and raising some fees. The extra money in the (Stormwater) Fund will be covered by a $2 increase in stormwater utility fees collected on all water and sewer bills. The monthly fee is currently $6.

Council decided to spend no more than $500,000 of the additional ($2 million] funds on studies and consulting services so that the majority $1.5 million would be spent fixing drainage problems. The funds will still allow the city to hire an outside firm to identify and prioritize the city’s drainage needs which had not been fully assessed since 1984.

The P&C had no comment on the Accommodation Tax and Hospitality Fee budgets. There were amendments to the tax which we were able to note. But we do not know if there were amendments to the the Fee. Press Download file to view the Tax budget and Download file to view the Fee budget. Note, the amendments approved last night are not shown.
The amendments of the Accommodation tax were the additions of $17,500 for the Halsey Institute, $15,000 for SEWE and $5000 for the Preservation Society.

Council member Wilson voted against the Hospitality Fee budget as she did last year. She thought that many of the allocations did little to put “heads in beds” and meet the purpose of the Fee. She thought that the City could apply more of the funds to its own services to better help the hospitality industry.