Charleston County Council soon will decide whether to move forward with a controversial financing plan for improvements to the Beach Co.’s Kiawah River Plantation, a plan some residents think is part of an assault on Johns Island.
Councilman Joe Qualey said he thinks council will consider whether to approve the $84.5 million plan in the next few weeks. And he’s going to push for a delay of about two weeks between the time council hears a presentation on the plan from county staffers and its vote on the matter. That would give council members and the public time to digest and consider the proposal for the high-end, 2,000-acre development on the southern end of Johns Island, he said.
Johns Island activist Bill Saunders, one of the leaders of the group Concerned Citizens of the Sea Islands, said the plan is one of three projects currently in the works to promote development on Johns Island to the detriment of people who live there. Kiawah River, the completion of Interstate 526 and a proposal to build a possible toll road called the Sea Island Greenway across Johns Island all are being pushed without the adequate involvement of people who live there, Saunders said.
“I call it welfare” for the Beach Co., Saunders said of the financing plan. “It shows us on Johns Island how unimportant and how powerless we are.”
The plan calls for creating what is known as a tax-increment financing district for the Kiawah River property, which sits near Mullet Hall. Under the TIF plan, $84.5 million in improvements, such as a wastewater treatment facility, for the development would be paid for by future tax revenue generated by the development.
Charleston County would be the sponsor of the district, and would agree to give up $11.5 million in future tax revenue to build the sewer facility. Money for the improvements also would come from the Charleston County School District and the county’s Park and Recreation Commission.
Beach Co. officials have said approval of the TIF would help them launch the development, which would benefit the county in the long run because it will bring in jobs and tourism dollars.
The Charleston County School Board, which eventually could vote on whether to give up $63 million in tax revenue for the TIF, met behind closed doors Monday to discuss what it might include in a contract if it votes to approve it.
John Barter, chairman of the school board’s finance committee, said the board discussed the matter because County Council likely would vote Feb. 5 on whether to move forward with the plan.
Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said the TIF won’t be on council’s Feb. 5 agenda. The group won’t discuss it until county staffers complete a plan and present it to council, he said.
Kevin O’Neill, vice president of development for Beach Development, said the company also is seeking to create its own Public Service District for Kiawah River. At first, the district was supposed to handle only fire services, he said. But the company now is requesting the district also handle sewer services.
Joseph Debney, executive director of the county’s Board of Election and Voter Registration, said his office has set May 21 as a tentative date for an election to form the Public Service District. But the date must be confirmed by the Clerk of Court, he said.
O’Neill said just one person lives on the property now, so the election would be decided by that person. He wouldn’t disclose the resident’s name.
Jake Libaire, a project manager for the Coastal Conservation League, said he’s concerned about the change in plans for the sewer plant. Many privately operated sewage treatment facilities have failed, causing “catastrophic sewage spills and taxpayer funded cleanups,” he said. If the Public Service District moves forward, the county and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control “must ensure proper operation and maintenance to prevent a failure. And in the event of a spill, the public needs to be protected from covering cleanup costs if raw sewage ends up in Mullet Hall Creek and the Kiawah River.”
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