Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley are still at it over the future of policing in the planned new town of James Island.
The law enforcement debate has been a central part of the turf war over the island since the town first attempted to incorporate in 1993.
Cannon, who held a news conference Wednesday to respond to Riley’s recent comments, said it would be most efficient for all concerned if the Sheriff’s Office continues to provide law enforcement in the area that might become the town.
Riley said later Wednesday that the town couldn’t expect its police services to be “subsidized” forever by other county residents. The town would eventually have to create and fund its own police department, or contract with the county for law enforcement, Riley said.
About 8,700 voters will be eligible to vote in an April 24 referendum to decide whether to form a new town. A favorable vote would be followed by a municipal election for mayor and council on July 31.
Three previous James Island incorporation votes were successful, but the process was successfully challenged in court by the city of Charleston. The third version of the town was dissolved by the state last summer.
The new town, the fourth, would have about 11,000 residents.
Bill Woolsey, a former James Island mayor who is heading the new incorporation effort, has said the town would receive state revenue sharing and a share of local option sales tax revenue. As was the case with previous versions of the town, the new one would not levy property taxes and would rely on the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement, he said.
Riley said the town would be the largest in the county to not have its own police department. The town, he said, will be composed of just about one-tenth of the county’s population.
Eventually, Riley predicted, the town would need a property tax, because county residents elsewhere “over time are not going to allow their tax dollars to be spent for policing the town of James Island.
“The assertion that they will be able to function without a level of property taxes is not founded in any form of reality,” Riley said.
Riley said Charleston County Council members, who represent single-member districts, will face pressure from their voters to reduce expenses via changes to policing the town of James Island.
Voters in North Charleston, Mount Pleasant and elsewhere will ask, “Why am I subsidizing police in James Island,” Riley said.
Cannon, whose deputies already patrol the unincorporated area that could become the new town, said it’s economic good sense for the Sheriff’s Office to continue services there.
Too many local law enforcement agencies provide too much duplication of services, and many small towns that formed their own police departments now regret it, Cannon asserted.
In a densely populated, mobile community, it makes sense to consolidate services, he said.
“Times have changed, and we are dealing with a modern problem that has an archaic structure,” Cannon said.
Concerning subsidizing, Cannon said, the county does plenty of that through library branches, use of the Cannon Detention Center, EMS and other services. He cited the county’s consolidation of EMS in 1973 as an example of how an emergency service can be made more effective and more efficient.
Cannon questioned whether County Council could legally order the Sheriff’s Office to cease serving a town of James Island.
“That’s an issue for the lawyers to figure out,” he said.
Noting that he is elected countywide, Cannon said, “I don’t think they (County Council) can dictate to an elected, constitutional officer how he performs his duties.”