Berkeley County won’t fund Trident Tech building, for now
Trident Technical College won’t get financial assistance for its new $30 million Nursing and Science Building from Berkeley County this year, unless the county changes its budget.
Typically, Berkeley County Council votes are split between two factions: Councilmen Tim Callanan, Phillip Farley, Cathy Davis and Dennis Fish vs. Bob Call, Jack Schurlknight, Caldwell Pinckney and Steve Davis. Supervisor Dan Davis often casts the deciding vote with the latter group.
Political newcomer Ken Gunn, who defeated District 3’s Call in the June primary and takes office in January, is expected to vote with the Callanan camp, shifting the balance of power on council.
The issue is one of many that divides Berkeley County Council.
Council was unable to find a way to fund the $441,000 annual payment after much discussion during a Finance Committee meeting, followed by more discussion at a council meeting on Monday.
The dispute is the same one that prompted the final reading of the 2012-13 budget to fail on June 25. Council passed the budget during an emergency meeting four days later, but it did not include the building project.
“We have every confidence that the Berkeley County Council will find a way to fund their commitment to the Nursing and Science Building,” Trident Technical College President Mary Thornley said Wednesday. The 90,000-square-foot building is under construction.
Councilman Tim Callanan said he will try again to get enough support to change the budget after political newcomer Ken Gunn takes office in January.
Council members agree that the building is a worthwhile investment, but disagree on how to help finance it this year. Some want to increase taxes while others want to use the fund balance, money the county has already collected from taxpayers.
In 2010, Trident asked Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties to fund the building. Berkeley has included payments toward its total commitment of $7.5 million in its last two budgets, but not this year’s.
Supervisor Dan Davis said he isn’t sure council ever committed to help fund the building.
Minutes from a September 2010 meeting quote county attorney Nicole Ewing saying the county’s commitment to the project has been documented, Callanan said, but Davis questioned whether Ewing misspoke then. He said Trident Tech’s request in February 2010 was to raise taxes to pay for the building, and council never acted on that request.
“I think Trident Tech would rather have the commitment for the long-term dollars than they would an appropriation from the general fund this year because I think they can get by without that,” Davis said Monday.
Callanan said the county has enough money in its coffers to make the one-time payment. He supports cutting the budget to offset a tax increase in the future.
“My position is simply, let’s get out of this year, and then when we have a council that’s created with the mindset of inclusion rather than exclusion, who knows what we can accomplish?” he said. “That’s simply my position and I’m entitled to it.”
Caldwell Pinckney, Jack Schurlknight, Bob Call, Cathy Davis and Steve Davis are members of the Finance Committee.
“I know people talk about taxes, taxes, no more taxes, but how are you going to get services?” said Pinckney, who made a motion in the Finance Committee that taxes be increased to fund the building. “Where’s the money going to come from? ... We’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do.”
In committee, Call and Pinckney voted for increasing taxes and Cathy Davis voted against it. As chairman, Schurlknight did not vote and Steve Davis was not at the meeting.
Full council voting was along the usual lines and the motion failed with four members voting against it.
“I know the budget has been cut to the bone and I just don’t see how in the world we’re going to find a half million dollars out of next year’s budget by cutting services or whatever from the departments,” said Schurlknight, who supports raising taxes for the project.
Even if the motion passed, it would not have mattered, Callanan said.
Ewing said it’s too late for the hike to be included on this fall’s tax bills because it requires three readings and a public hearing by council, but she said council could commit to it for next year to show its intent and commitment to the project.
Callanan pointed out that the current council cannot make commitments for future councils.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.