The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

The Watch


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County Council, March 27

Accommodation tax windfall
No support for underground wiring study on Riverland Terrace
Warwick Jones

The County recently had a pleasant surprise. It received an additional $349,799 from the State for its 2017 accommodation tax entitlement. It seems the State is “mum” is about explaining the windfall but staff opined that it was a collection from AirB&B. Presumably the rental agency once had a different idea about its liability for the tax.

Reflecting State law, the County can only keep only about $41,000 of the amount and this will go to the General Fund. The balance of roughly $309,000 will be directed to the tourist industry - $97,440 for advertising and promotion and $211,119 for more general tourism purposes.

Council made no attempt to allocate the proceeds beyond directing it all to the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB receives the lion’s share of allocations generally and plays the major role in promoting tourism in the County.

The County’s valuable property on Morrison Drive became an issue again on Council. At its previous meeting, Council asked staff of begin negotiations of a possible sale of 995 Morrison Drive to parties connected/owned by the owners of Laurel Island. As we commented in our write up of the meeting, the development of the island depends on the ability to construct an overpass of the road and rail line and this in turn will depend on securing a right of way through the County owned property. For this reason, the value of the property should be much greater to the island developer than to a developer simply focusing on the Morrison Drive property.

Council member Qualey was unhappy that the purchase of the property was not put out for general bidding and voted against the arrangement at the last meeting. Council member Schweers voted for the arrangement but asked last night that the issue again be addressed and indicated that he wanted to change his vote. And Council member Darby also commented that he thought the parcel should be retained by the County and not sold at all.

There was long discussion but nothing much was said that had not been said at the last meeting. In particular, Council had to approve any sale and it was not obliged to accept any offer from the party with whom it is negotiating. And if the County wanted, it could call for bids regardless of the negotiations.

There were issues about procedures but finally, Council voted 6 to 3 to proceed with the negotiations.

The issue was over spending $26,000 for a study and took up more time than any other issue before Council yesterday. SCE&G, the scourge of grand oaks, had estimated that it would cost $26,000 to study the cost and viability of placing wiring underground in some of the areas in Riverland Terrace. Council member Qualey had placed the item of the agenda reacting to requests from citizens in the area. They and the Council member noted the grand live oaks that graced Riverland and Wappoo Roads and the need for their preservation.

The spokesman for SCE&G indicated the willingness to make the study though the County would have to bear the actual cost which could be more or less than the estimated $26,000. Despite the questioning, the spokesman gave no indication of the cost of placing wires underground but warned that it could be prohibitively expensive. He said that in municipalities, SCE&G usually pays 50% of the cost with 35% met by the municipality and the balance by property owners. The municipalities with franchise arrangement usually recover their contributions with fees levied on property. In my understanding, in the unincorporated areas of the County, property owners would be up for 50% of the cost as there are no franchise arrangements.

The whole subject became moot with the vote. All Council members except Council member Qualey opposed financing the study.