By Marc Knapp
The city of Charleston fired a warning shot across the bow of those who might be thinking of resurrecting the town of James Island.
Charleston City Council agreed to send a resolution to the county asking that if a new town were formed, it provide and pay for a police force that is appropriate for a town of its size. The final paragraph does not quite say that but the many “whereas” paragraphs certainly do.
The final paragraph of the resolutions reads “… the City of Charleston respectfully urges Charleston County Council to require a new Town of James Island, if one is formed, to directly provide its own law enforcement services or to compensate the County for police services that may be provided to this municipality.”
Mayor Joe Riley and, presumably, council believes that the town of James Island was not paying its full share of the cost of the law enforcement services provided by the county while it existed. Further, other taxpayers in the county effectively subsidized the services provided by the county to the town.
The mayor noted that other towns and municipalities in South Carolina with a population of more than 5,000 paid between $150 and $500 per capita for law enforcement services.
The new town would have a population of about 12,000, so the annual cost based on these figures would be between $1.8 million and $6 million. Based on the estimated 18,000 population of the town before it was dissolved, the theoretical range would have been $2.7 million to $9 million.
It’s unclear what the town paid the Charleston County for law enforcement services, but it would seem likely the amount was less than $2.7 million, the lowest level in the range calculated above for a population of 18,000.
The city’s resolution states that the town used the services of the county sheriffs’ department “at almost no additional cost.”
The resolution points out that South Carolina law requires that “the incorporation of a new town of James Island to file a proposal as part of the incorporation application that demonstrates that, directly, the level of law enforcement in the new town will be substantially similar to that in existence prior to incorporation.”
As the city of Charleston is now providing that service, it implies that a new town would have to provide something comparable.
Riley said the resolution had no prompting from the county or other municipalities. But he did talk to the mayors of North Charleston and Mount Pleasant and they were in agreement with the tenor of the resolution.
The following is the unwritten message of the resolution: “Go ahead and try to form a new Town of James Island, but beware, the cost of services, in particular law enforcement, could send your property taxes through the roof.”