Charleston Councilman Criticizes P&C Editorial

June 7, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveBy Warwick Jones
Citizen Reporter

The agenda for the Charleston County Council Finance Committee’s May 27 meeting was light.

But at the close of the meeting, Chairman Teddie E. Pryor Sr. commented on an editorial from The (Charleston) Post and Courier and a proposal to mitigate the planned effective property tax increase for FY 2011.

Earlier in the month, the Post and Courier ran an editorial criticizing the county for not trying hard enough to avoid a property tax increase. It also criticized Council members Paul Thurmond and Henry Darby for leaving a council meeting before a final vote was taken on the budget.

The chairman said that to instigate more layoffs or furloughs for county staff, as implied in the editorial, was unfair. The budget should not be balanced only on the back of staff.

He also said that the two council members had prior engagements, which he knew about. Their departure before the vote had nothing to do with avoiding a “tough call,” as implied by the Post and Courier, he said.

Pryor then proposed that to mitigate the increase in property taxes for FY 2011, the county effectively reduce the solid waste fee by $25, to $74. This would reduce projected 2011 revenues by $6.75 million and reduce the solid waste fund’s unreserved, undesignated fund balance from $37.8 million to $31.1 million.

The proposed reduction (by way of a credit on property tax bills) “will make whole” all those taxpayers who live in a property valued at $250,000 or less.

The credit will precisely offset the tax increase for a property valued at $250,000, but for properties with a lower valuation, will more than offset the property tax increase.

As the budget presently stands, the owner of a $250,000 residential property would see his property tax bill rise from $290.50, to $316, an increase of 8.7 percent. The increase would reflect an increase in the debt service millage of $8 and a reduction in the local option sales tax credit of $17.50.

Pryor asked the council to consider the proposal and be prepared to discuss and vote on it at the next meeting.

The proposal to “reduce” the solid waste fee follows on discussion a few weeks ago about running down fund balances to balance the 2011 budget.

Staff was generally concerned about the impact of cutting balances to less than the equivalent of two months of spending. Levels below the equivalent of two months could lead to a reduction in the county’s strong credit rating, they said.

However, the high level of the solid waste fund balance did not escape attention and some council members argued for a reduction. Staff at the time said that although the balance was high, spending on solid waste was likely to accelerate with a concurrent drawdown on the funds. It seems the drawdown may not be a fast as previously thought.