HICKS COLUMN: Will a new PSD on Johns Island cost all taxpayers?
Charleston County really doesn’t have much of a say in the Beach Co.’s plan to form a public service district on Johns Island.
But some County Council members really wish they did.
Last week, Diane Knich reported that the company wants to set up a PSD to provide fire and sewer services to its proposed Kiawah River Plantation development on Johns Island.
This is in addition to an $85 million tax increment financing district the company wants to set up to make improvements to the property so it will be ready for mansions, shops and a big hotel.
The only person who gets to vote on this public service district is the one person currently living on the 2,000-acre property, and the Beach Co. won’t say who that is.
What’s funny is that if this plan doesn’t work, and the PSD can’t provide those services, it’s not that one person who’s on the hook — it will be all the other county residents.
A big HOA?
Mostly, PSDs provide urban services like fire, water and trash pick-up to unincorporated areas of the county — the James Island and St. Andrews PSDs are two biggies.
These government entities serve a lot of people, and kind of operate as a bare-bones city for folks who don’t want to live in a city.
The Kiawah River Plantation public service district would serve only one neighborhood.
“I have a hard time distinguishing between this PSD and a homeowners association,” says Councilman Dickie Schweers, “and the Lowcountry’s history with homeowners associations operating sewer systems has been pretty dismal.”
Some other council members have their own reservations. And they aren’t particularly thrilled with the message, which is this: The Beach Co. is going to set up its own government agency inside the county without any county say. But if it fails, the county would likely have to step in.
A couple of council members say that doesn’t give them the warm fuzzies about approving an $85 million TIF district to help this plan along.
The ripple effect
Council Chairman Teddie Pryor is not one of those opposed to a Kiawah River Plantation PSD. “I can understand,” he says. “They want to be in control of their own destiny.”
Pryor says council would be responsible for approving the PSD’s budget, and it would force the company/neighborhood to build in safeguards that would protect other taxpayers in case this doesn’t work out. That’s fair.
But Pryor sees one potential problem. If this new PSD happens to attract Kiawah and Seabrook residents into its fold, that would cost the St. Johns Fire District, another PSD, about three-quarters of its annual budget.
To make up for that lost revenue, the St. Johns Fire District would have to raise taxes significantly, and likely lay off firefighters. And then everyone on Johns and Wadmalaw islands would see their fire insurance costs skyrocket.
There are a lot of scenarios to play out here, with a lot of possible implications to Charleston County taxpayers, all in the name of one neighborhood. Seems like a lot of put on one anonymous voter.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.