Tuesday, February 12, 2013
County roughs out priorities
By Leslie Cantu
The Journal Scene
Diversifying the county’s sources of revenue and economic development were the top priorities identified by Dorchester County Council during its retreat Friday.
Other priorities were the delivery of county services, parks and recreation, capital projects, public safety and preservation of the culture and environment.
Council met for an all-day session at the Summerville Airport to hash out a map for the next few years, after conducting similar sessions in 2001 and 2006.
The county is too dependent on property taxes, Councilman Jay Byars said, and Dorchester County residents subsidize Berkeley and Charleston by paying their sales tax.
A local option sales tax, which would reduce property taxes, is one option, he said.
Councilman David Chinnis said the General Assembly needs to either fully fund the local government fund or get rid of its mandates on counties.
The local government fund is meant to cover the county’s cost of providing state services, but it hasn’t been fully funded in recent years.
Councilman Larry Hargett said the county could choose to charge a nominal fee to municipalities for collecting taxes on their behalf, and Administrator Jason Ward said at least three South Carolina counties charge a fee to their municipalities for using the county jail.
Byars also suggested asking voters to approve a dedicated revenue stream – perhaps two mills – for parks and recreation.
“At some point the franchise fees aren’t going to do what the county and citizens want to see,” he said.
What citizens want was the question of the day.
Lots of people are moving here from other parts of the country, and they have higher expectations of public services, Chinnis said.
Chinnis, who travels frequently for work, said places like the suburbs of Chicago have parks everywhere. Public services in the Northeast, Northwest and Chicago area are twice as much as offered here, he said.
When those people move here, they’re wowed by the low taxes but don’t realize the implications, he said.
“I don’t think they recognize when the lived in Seattle they paid for those,” he said.
The transportation impact fee reared its head again, with Byars arguing the fees inhibit growth and give people the false impression that transportation infrastructure is adequately funded.
Chinnis had a little fun with Byars’ use of the words “adequately funded” – an adequate facilities ordinance introduced several years ago, before either man was on council, failed.
Instead, the impact fees went into effect in February 2011.
Council also discussed some of its capital projects, including new EMS stations, an emergency operations center and the new jail.
The new jail is funded, but council must decide whether to follow a design-build or a design-bid-build model, Ward said.
That matter should be on Monday’s agenda.
County Council voted in its regular meeting Monday to hire County Attorney John Frampton on a full-time basis.
Frampton currently has a private practice and works for the county at a rate of $150 per hour.
As his county work has increased, however, council decided to hire him, beginning at the start of the new fiscal year, at $132,000 per year.