City residents face tax increase for drainage improvements

The city of Charleston has proposed a tax increase for drainage improvements in its 2016 budget. One of the areas proposed for improvements is Lockwood Drive near Beaufain Street.

Recent flooding has made even more clear the need for drainage improvements in Charleston, but city residents are going to have to pay a little more to get them.

Mayor Joe Riley proposed a property tax increase to cover the work, one of his last moves in his waning days in the mayor’s office. City Council has given the plan initial approval and will take a final vote on the city’s 2016 budget on Dec. 15. The budget includes the tax increase, which comes to about $20 on a $250,000 owner-occupied home,

“I did this out of a sense of responsibility to not leave the problem to a new administration,” Riley said. He said the drainage improvements also were necessary because sea levels are expected to rise over the next 100 years.

The tax increase, which is expected to bring in $2.2 million in 2016, will be used to launch improvements in flood-prone areas along: Signal Point Road on James Island; Calhoun Street; Colonial Lake near Lockwood Drive, Rutledge Avenue and Beaufain Street; Cooper and Jackson streets and Morrison Drive; Ashley Hall Road; and in South Windermere and Windermere East.

City Councilman Mike Seekings said he thinks the project list should be made more clear and include a timeline. “We need a clear priority list so everybody knows how and when,” he said.

But Laura Cabiness, director of the city’s public service department, said the current list of projects would take hundreds of millions of dollars to complete. The money from the tax increase will get projects started and will allow the city to apply for state and federal money to complete them.

City Councilman Dean Riegel abstained from the initial vote on the budget, which passed 12-0. He said he did so because he wasn’t assured enough would be done for West Ashley, the area he represents.

Steve Bedard, the city’s chief financial officer, said money from the tax increase is “the seed money to get other federal and state money for larger projects.”

He also said that income from the local option sales tax has been increasing, and he expects it to more than compensate for the tax increase in two years or less.

The city’s 2016 general fund budget is about $160.5 million, Bedard said. That’s up about 3.8 percent from the 2015 budget, which was $154.5 million.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.