DANIEL ISLAND — The mood was pensive and the questions pointed among people at a community meeting about leaving Berkeley County for Charleston County.
People sat quietly listening in the 400-seat Bishop England High School hall. They laughed when one resident suggested forming their own county instead, but they responded with loud applause to Berkeley County Councilman and Daniel Island resident Tim Callanan, who said plainly that while he too thinks they are getting a raw deal on taxes and possibly schools, they need accurate information, and signing the annexation petition proposed at the meeting isn’t necessary to get it.
“This is really the wrong way to go about it,” he said
The Daniel Island Neighborhood Association held the meeting, and Dave Williams, the president, asked attendees to sign the petition.
“We’re not voting tonight. We’re here to start the process to get our questions answered,” Williams said.
“Based on all the research we’ve done, we feel our best interests are served by Charleston County. But it’s up to you guys,” he said.
The issue has been simmering on the island for a decade, but was fueled by dissatisfaction over the recent Berkeley County school referendum.
Residents worry they are not getting their money’s worth for their tax dollars. Last year’s $198 million school improvement bond referendum, which island voters backed by a 70 percent to 30 percent margin, included money to build a new school to ease overcrowding at Daniel Island School, which houses students K-8. Islanders thought the new school would be built on the island, but now are concerned that the district will build it on Clements Ferry Road, taking away islanders’ ability to walk or bike to school.
“I’ve lost a lot of trust in the Berkeley County School Board. I think they consciously misled the voters here,” said resident Ryan Gilsenan. He has four children he wants to see go to school on the island through 12th grade. He’s not happy with the distance to Moncks Corner or that money residents spend in Charleston County is taxed for that county’s schools while the residents pay taxes for Berkeley schools.
“I still have a lot of questions (about annexation). I think a lot of people on Daniel Island are very interested in what our options are,” he said.
Residents also expressed concern about what it would cost to become part of Charleston County.
Concern is growing across Berkeley County over the potential loss of the island and its tax base, but there also is sympathy for island residents.
In a phone interview earlier Thursday, county Supervisor Dan Davis said the county attorney has been asked to research annexation laws and court rulings. But county officials are waiting to see what the residents decide.
Bill Bates, a Goose Creek anti-tax advocate, made no bones about it in a call Thursday.
“I think most people in Berkeley County are against (the Charleston County) annexation because it will hurt our tax base,” he said. “But the (county) school board reneged on a promise. That’s just not right. The school board needs to be spanked for that, so I can understand why the residents are so angry. But gee, I’d hate to see them go.”
The earliest an annexation vote could take place would be June 2014, attorney Trenholm Walker told island residents at the meeting. It would need 400-500 votes to be approved.
Daniel Island’s 9,000 residents make up 4 percent of Berkeley County’s population but provide as much as 20 percent of the county’s tax base, according to Callanan’s estimates.
Brenda Rindge of The Post and Courier contributed to this story. Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.