HICKS COLUMN: It's not the police, James Island, it's the taxes
Well James Island, the sheriff meant well.
Al Cannon took up for the once-and-future “town” this week by railing against Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who says Jim Isle Inc. needs a police department if it's going to be a real town. The sheriff said that would be a waste, that he'd just as soon keep his deputies in there.
Unfortunately for the town, Cannon's reasoning actually proves Riley's point.
From a law enforcement perspective, the sheriff is absolutely right. His people already patrol unincorporated areas of James Island, so it is an economy of scale for them to keep doing it. It gets confusing, he notes, when you have too many law enforcement agencies providing a duplication of services. Exactly.
Sort of like it's ridiculous to have 16 towns in one county. That's not only a duplication of services, it is an exponential waste of money.
And it puts the lie to the idea that conservatives want “less government.”
If that were the case, they'd quit making more.
The issue here has nothing to do with police. It's about taxes.
Charleston County uses property taxes to fund a Sheriff's Office that patrols its unincorporated areas. Like most cities, Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant all have their own cops.
If those towns refused to police themselves, Cannon would be forced to patrol their streets (assuming the county didn't sue, which would be hypocritical). Then everyone in the county would have to pick up the tab for the additional personnel. And you can bet the folks on James Island would protest the necessary tax hike.
So why is it fair for a new town to take a piece of state aid-to-subdivision money from the county and then rebate it to residents instead of paying for the sort of services other cities have to provide?
“If James Island isn't paying for it, someone else is,” says Ed Pendarvis, leader of the One Greater Charleston group.
Smaller is better?
Pendarvis advocates a true conservative position here.
He'd like what is called a metro government, but knows these little towns aren't going to give up their fiefdoms. He'd be happy if Charleston and North Charleston would merge, and plans to ask both to put a referendum about the idea on the November ballot.
He says everyone should be working together instead of putting up borders and opposing each other. That's right.
The best part about a metro government is that it would lead to fairer taxation: people pay the base property tax, plus a “service district” rate for anything beyond basic services.
That is infinitely better than having people in North Chuck and Mt. Pleasant subsidizing patrols on James Island. Unless, of course, everyone else wants to chip in on their police to level the field.
Yeah, don't hold your breath.
No, what will happen is that James Island will incorporate again and the disparity will increase. It's funny: Last night, residents of the would-be town met at a “Free James Island” forum. In this case, however, “free” means they don't have to pay for it.
Everybody else does.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.