For years, the James Island Public Service District has brought its budget to Charleston County Council for approval.
But that could come to an end Thursday when state Circuit Judge Kristi Harrington is expected to rule on a lawsuit the district filed against the county seeking to be freed from it's budget oversight, while still having the county collect taxes for the district.
The district provides fire protection, wastewater and solid waste collection and street name signs to the 24,000 residents living on James Island. It is governed by a commission comprised of seven elected members.
The decision has to be made as soon as possible, the district's attorney Trent Kernodle said, because the district's current budget plan ends June 30.
County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said he thinks council never should have had the authority to approve the district's budget. "They are elected officials just like we are," he said.
The approval process came into question during last year's budget review, Pryor said. Some County Council members didn't like that the district was giving all of its employees a 2 percent raise. He thought those members were "playing politics with other people," he said. So he encouraged the district and the county's legal department to explore whether county approval was necessary.
Kernodle said the county never had the power to alter anything in the district's proposed budget. It only could approve or reject the entire budget. He's not aware of the county ever not approving a district budget, he said.
Kernodle said he thinks the district never should have had to get county approval because it was formed in 1961. The General Assembly approved the Home Rule Act in 1975, which gave more power to local governments, he said. That act should exclude the district from county oversight, he said.
The St. Andrews Public Service District, which serves some West Ashley residents and also was founded before home rule, won a legal challenge several years ago and now doesn't have to get county approval for its budget, Kernodle said.
Pryor said that if the judge rules that the district's budget requires county approval, council will hold emergency meetings to make sure the matter is taken care of before June 30.
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.
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