Thursday, September 13, 2012
The proposal to increase franchise fees got the support of only one speaker during Wednesday’s public hearing, but it got just enough support from Town Council to pass.
Summerville Town Council voted 4-3 to approve the increase in electric, gas and cable franchise fees to 5 percent from 3 percent.
Councilmen Aaron Brown, Bob Jackson and Bill McIntosh opposed the increase.
The increased money from the fee will be earmarked for a new road leading into Summerville from the future Sheep Island Interchange at mile marker 197 on I-26.
Mayor Bill Collins said the road is necessary to reduce congestion. If the town fails to raise the money, residents will end up spending far more in gasoline, idling in gridlock, than they would on slightly larger electric bills because of the franchise fee increase, he said.
But public speakers questioned the need for the road as well as the wisdom of increasing fees in this economy.
“Maybe, just maybe, this is the time to hunker down and maintain rather than building,” said Jewel Miley.
Fred Berkaw said the road would benefit developers in Berkeley County, but he didn’t see the benefit to Summerville and Dorchester County.
Art Rooney said developers have too much of a voice. MeadWestvaco should contribute to the cost, he said.
“I’d like to see a plan. I’d like to understand how this rose to the top. … I can afford a couple bucks a month, but it’s not me I’m worried about,” he said.
Rudd Smith was alone in praising the idea.
“We so often in this area seem to be behind the curve in our road planning,” he said.
He liked that everyone, not just property owners, would contribute to the road cost.
McIntosh, despite his ultimate vote against the fee increase, explained to the assembled residents why the road is important.
The interchange will be built, he said. So will a road leading from the interchange to the MeadWestvaco development on the other side of the interstate, headed toward Moncks Corner, he said.
“Unless we come up with some revenues from somewhere, that road will go in one direction – and that’s away from Summerville,” he said.
After the meeting, he said the road has been in the town’s comprehensive plan since at least 2009.
He agreed the road was necessary, he said, but wanted to find a different way to pay for it.
Councilman Walter Bailey, on the other hand, who has opposed increasing the franchise fee in the past, voted in favor of the increase.
Without the road, he said, Summerville turns into a parking lot.
Even though it’s called a fee and it’s charged to utility companies, it is a tax and it will be passed on to consumers, he said.
“I regret that,” Bailey said.
Brown said he opposed the fee because people can’t afford an increase now and the town has no guarantee of the road or the benefits of commercial development.