CharlestonWatch.com

The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

The Watch

Archives

Individual Articles

City Council, March 13

Council presses ahead with parking plans
Reluctance to request head tax on cruise ship passengers
Marc Knapp

Raising the cost of metered parking on the Peninsula was not on the agenda. But a host of citizens turned out in Citizens Participation to protest the planned increase. The protests made no difference. The increases were approved last year and Council is moving ahead with the implementation.

Most of the speakers were workers in the hospitality industry. They spoke of the hardship imposed on them by the higher charges, the possibility that many would quit the industry, and the threat to the viability of the industry. Some went further and suggested if the viability of the industry was threatened, so also would tourism, the City’s major economic engine.

Both Mayor Tecklenberg and Council member Seekings addressed the issues raised by the protestors. They referred to the parking issues of the City and the low rates. The City needed funds to address some issues and raising rates would help. Presently, the metered charge is $1 an hour with free parking after 6pm at night. The charge is to rise to $2 an hour with free parking only after 10pm.

Council member Seekings noted there were 1703 meters in the City with 350 of those downtown. This has to be set against the more than 7000 workers in the hospitality industry. And beyond the hospitality industry workers, there were those in the retail and commercial enterprises, and of course tourists. During the day there could be 15,000 to 20,000 visitors to the downtown area. Parking was indeed a problem. But for the hospitality workers, a large proportion of which worked in the evenings there was the option of the parking garages. The fee for parking after 3 pm was $7 and after 6pm, $5.

The Mayor acknowledged that the City erred in the past in not requiring hotels and restaurants to provide parking for staff. Such parking is required for new developments but this does little to alleviate the present pressure. Metered parking was not designed to meet the needs of full time employees and daily parking but rather those of visitors. And clearly, existing metered parking does not meet the needs of workers and visitors.

It seemed that many of the protestors knew little of the proposed “park and ride” facility on Morrison Drive. It will be operated by CARTA and from property owned by the City and County. It specifically is designed to help the hospitality workers. The sites will hold 170 car spaces and will be supervised all day and night. Shuttles from the site will operate from 5 am to 2 am and will be every 10 to 15 minutes. The shuttles will run along King Street to Broad Street and then return along Meeting Street. To park a car will cost $5, but the shuttle will be free.

The capacity of the parking lot is expected to be fully utilized and CARTA is looking for other sites, on the Peninsula, West Ashley and elsewhere. And not insignificantly, Executive Director Mitchum of CARTA stated recently that the shuttle service cost could be about $750,000 a year. He hoped it would be less and that some of the members of the hospitality industry would contribute to the service.

We think the initiatives of the City to address the metered parking issues, and that of the City, County and CARTA in supporting the shuttle service, should be applauded. But we wonder at the reluctance of industry members to add their support for the “park and ride”. Considering new hotel construction and occupancy, hotels generally must be doing well financially. And considering the growth of the City and the number of visitors, we’d say the same for restaurants. Can they not afford to make contributions to the shuttle service? It seems that with no parking capacity being added downtown, “park and ride” is the only way to go. And without “park and ride”, the viability of the hospitality industry may truly be threatened.
######

It been some time since cruise ships were an issue on Council. Council member Seekings has had issues with them for some time and last night, sought Council support to impose a head tax on cruise ship passengers. He argued that the City needed funds for a host of projects and that cruise ships and their passengers were getting a “free ride”. How about a head tax of about $25?

If eloquence and logic were the sole determinants, the Council member would have had the support of all Council members. All probably were sympathetic to his argument, but as the Mayor indicated, the cause was a lost one.

Council member Gregorie reminded Council that the issue had been discussed in the past and went nowhere. As the Mayor also explained, it was still likely to go nowhere. The State Ports Authority (SPA) owns and operates the Cruise Terminal. This precludes the City unilaterally imposing a head tax. A tax would first need to be approved by the State legislature. And that is unlikely. The state derives revenue from the SPA and cruise ships. Only one County has a port but all of the Counties benefit directly or indirectly from the port. Why would the other Counties agree to something that might reduce the revenue of the port?

The Mayor spoke to Senator Kimpson and Representative Cogswell and was advised that a request for a head tax had little or no chance of passing through the legislature. And besides the City had a controversial request before the legislature - to widen the restraints on deploying Accommodation Tax and Hospitality Fee proceeds. Better to focus on this issue for now.
######

Some of the speakers in Citizens Participation were unhappy about the progress of distributing the FEMA grant to purchase their homes. FEMA last year, agreed to finance the purchase of 32 units in the Bridgepoint development at Shadow Moss in West Ashley. The homes had been flooded a number of times and were vulnerable to further flooding.

Council member Griffin later took up their cause and others relating to the Church Creek basin.
Staff conceded that the process had been slow and faster progress was difficult. The City had to fulfil proscribed legal obligations in hiring or contracting. It was possible that the City could use its own assessor in valuing properties and speed up the process. Notwithstanding, staff said that it expected the buy out to be complete before July 31. The whole process including demolition may not be completed before early 2019.

Staff is to report to Council every month as to progress on mitigating flooding in the Church Creek Basin.
#######

The appointment of Luther Reynolds to Police Chief was approved by Council. Mr. Reynolds comes from Luther County, Maryland and has excellent credentials. However, there was not unanimous approval. Council members Waring, Mitchell and Lewis were opposed. It was not that they didn’t like the proposed new Chief. They thought that Chief Taylor, a long time veteran of the force and the interim Chief on the departure of Chief Mullen would have been a better choice.