MOUNT PLEASANT - Town Council decided Tuesday that its residents and businesses should pay a little more in property taxes, stormwater utility fees, planning fees, building permit fees and business licenses to tackle a backlog of needed road and drainage work.
Councilman Mark Smith said he didn't like voting to raise taxes well before the budget is presented, adding, "I just feel like we're getting ahead of ourselves."
Mayor Linda Page said she has studied town spending closely since getting elected as a councilwoman four years ago and is satisfied the town needs the money. "Not only will I support this (property tax) increase, I think it's a little too late, and I wish it were a little more," she said.
The tax increase would add $36 to the annual bill on a $300,000 home, while council also voted to double its stormwater utility fee from $30 to $60.
And that's not all, council also gave initial approval to raising the cost of a town business license by $15 and then by 33 cents more for every $1,000 of a business' income. Also, developers and builders may pay more in planning fees and for building permits.
The town would spend the money on new road projects, such as the Sweetgrass Basket Parkway and Long Point Road's extension and realignment. It also would spend it on pavement management in neighborhoods like Mallard Lakes and Park West and drainage projects in Wakendaw Lakes and neighborhoods off Whipple Road.
Those voting for the property tax increase included Page and council members Elton Carrier, Paul Gawyrch, Chris Nickels, Chris O'Neal, Thomasena Stokes-Marshall. Council members Smith, Ken Glasson and Gary Santos voted no.
Smith also cast the sole vote against raising business license rates and planning and building permit fees, but he was joined by Gawyrch, Santos and Glasson in opposing the $30 stormwater fee increase, which passed 5-4.
The town hasn't raised its property tax rate in about two decades, but council members have been grappling with how to close a funding gap that threatens to limit the town's ability to maintain its roads and drainage system - and to provide other services, too.
Earlier this year, town staff reviewed its capital project list and focused on $5.8 million in projects that are considered top priorities but are not funded. At the time, Administrator Eric DeMoura said, "We have aging infrastructure that is starting to break down. That's the primary issue."
Even with the increase, property taxes are lower here than in Charleston or North Charleston. The owner of a $300,000 home would pay about $1,082 here ($373 to the town), while the same valued home in Charleston is charged $1,466 ($757 to the city). In North Charleston, it's $1,624.20 ($915 to the city).
While the tax and fee increases will hit the pocketbook of nearly all town residents, only one person spoke up during a public hearing on the stormwater and business license fees.
George Freeman, who recently ran for mayor, said even though town officials have bragged about not raising property taxes, they can't say the same regarding fees. "We cannot write off these fees on our (income) taxes," he said. "This is something that's of concern to me."
A separate public hearing on the property tax increase will be held before council considers giving it final approval next month.
Far more people turned out to speak about planned changes to the town's Coleman Boulevard Overlay District, which has come under fire because of complaints about new developments, such as The Boulevard and Earls Court, a small residential development at Whilden and Hibben streets.
Council members unanimously voted to restrict the allowed density and require more parking, and it will study whether it also should restrict one-way streets - and reduce parking requirements for apartments - before giving final approval next month.
Some developers and designers urged the council to reject the changes, saying they would make it impossible to build some houses like those found - and admired - in both I'On and the Old Village.
But many more residents have been applying to pressure to council for months to consider some further restrictions on density and parking.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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