This is not going to be pleasant.
The East Cooper Republican Club hosted a forum for Mount Pleasant Town Council candidates last week and, judging by the questions and answers, neither residents nor their future leaders see that bus coming.
You know, the one that’s about to hit them.
Earlier this year, the town’s staff warned council that Mount Pleasant could provide its current level of service for only five more years with projected revenue. Which is understandable, as Mount Pleasant is essentially an overgrown suburb with no industrial tax base.
Still, the town’s tax rate is less than half of Charleston’s or North Charleston’s. Which isn’t enough to sustain the town.
Administrator Eric DeMoura, a particularly level-headed man, told council members in January that Mount Pleasant was like a person who makes $50,000 a year but needs $65,000 to make ends meet — the very definition of living beyond your means.
Yet the first question East Cooper Republicans asked the candidates was basically: Will you be a leader in reducing taxes, fees and regulations?
And every one of the seven candidates in attendance said “yes.” Which is exactly what the audience wanted to hear, and completely unrealistic.
The cognitive dissonance here is jaw-dropping. Some candidates insist Mount Pleasant is still a town, when it’s now the fourth-largest city in South Carolina.
They blame increased traffic on no-turn medians along Coleman Boulevard … when it probably has more to do with the 40,000 people who’ve moved in over the past two decades.
Professional planners have repeatedly said there are only two ways to raise revenue — higher-density development or higher taxes — and most swore to oppose both.
Of course, such delusions mean they’ll fit in fine with most of the current bunch.
In recent years, a number of thoughtful, sane people have stepped down from Town Council because they were tired of the bickering, divisive politics and complete intransigence of their loudest constituents.
One of council’s most reasonable members is retiring after one term, and another could get axed in November because he once disagreed with the not-in-my-backyard wannabe HOA known as Save Shem Creek.
There appears to be slim pickings for their replacements. Few of these candidates could answer questions about which departments need more funding — or which need to be cut. As if.
But then, some of them could not name a single council committee they want to serve on.
A couple speculated that town employees might not be efficient enough. Maybe there should even be an audit of town spending, a few suggested. They latched on to any dumb idea that allowed them — or the audience — to avoid any passing acquaintance with the town’s predicament.
Ironically, audience members and candidates referred to an op-ed published in The Post and Courier last week by Councilwoman G.M. Whitley, in which she soberly warned of this coming crisis. She noted the pending operating budget shortfalls don’t include unfunded capital projects such as bike paths, ball fields and a Medal of Honor museum.
But some people apparently interpreted “cut spending” as “cut taxes.”
Town Council has yet to come up with the cash for stormwater improvements, upgrades to its Fire Department or any number of other needed projects. But they spent nearly a quarter of the town’s reserves to buy the Wando Docks.
Mayor Will Haynie says in an op-ed today that town and business leaders are working on a plan to increase economic development, which Mount Pleasant needs.
Trouble is, as the mayor points out, only homes valued at more than $800,000 pay enough property taxes to finance the services they get. And many small businesses can’t open and contribute to the tax base because they can’t afford town impact fees ... which, by design, limit growth.
Still, voters want tax cuts, and most of these candidates say they’ll oblige. They talk about cuts to nonessential services, like recreation, while promising a better quality of life.
Which is kind of a contradiction.
Unfortunately, about 20 percent of voters will elect four of these folks in a few weeks. If history is a guide, they’ll choose the four who make the most ludicrous promises they can’t keep.
And if they do, poor Mount Pleasant eventually will become cash-poor Mount Pleasant.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.