In a blistering letter between local governments, commissioners of the James Island Public Service District derided the town of James Island as "a paper town, providing no essential services" and disparaged the town's mayor while rejecting a proposal involving garbage collection.
"The venom which drips from your every utterance makes any communication from your office suspect and suspicious," said the three-page letter to Mayor Bill Woolsey, signed by JIPSD Commissioners Bill "Cubby" Wilder, Sandi Engelman, Kay Kernodle and Donald Hollingsworth.
The other three commissioners, including Woolsey's wife Kathy, did not sign the letter, which came in response to the mayor's criticism of a proposed JIPSD property tax hike. Bill Woolsey had also sent a proposal, suggesting the town could pay the district for garbage collection, and the district could then reduce the property tax paid by town residents.
“I found their response unprofessional," the mayor said Wednesday.
Woolsey originally sent a letter to Wilder and the commission June 10, saying he was disappointed by the commission's proposed 13 percent property tax increase — a "very drastic increase," he wrote — and pitching his idea "to help the PSD with its very serious funding problem."
The letter in response, signed by a majority of PSD commissioners, said the town collects millions of dollars, provides few if any services, and yet built "an extravagantly expensive city hall." The town, they said, "is totally reliant" on the district-provided fire protection, garbage collection and wastewater services, and without them the town "could never be formed and could not operate today."
James Island residents have seen decades of struggles between the many governments that serve parts of the sea island — the town, the PSD, the city of Charleston, and Charleston County — but, even there, the latest spat between the mayor and PSD commissioners is unusually heated.
“Well, yes, that is pretty strong," Wilder said, referring to the "venom" comment.
The public service district is an independent government, created to provide services. There are many in the state, such as the St. Andrews Public Service District that serves unincorporated West Ashley. The James Island Public Service District dates to 1961, while the current town of James Island was incorporated in 2012.
Wilder used to be a town councilman, and helped form the town during multiple efforts to incorporate.
“There wouldn’t be a town of James Island, if it wasn’t for the James Island PSD," he said.
Wilder said the PSD needs the proposed 13 percent property tax increase to pay for a new fire station and raise employee salaries. There will be a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Monday at 1739 Signal Point Road before a final vote on the tax increase.
What Woolsey proposed to the PSD was complex and, his proposal said, "somewhat novel and not entirely free from (legal) doubt," involving payments from the town to the PSD, aimed at reducing the PSD's property tax bills for town residents only. The district also serves James Island's unincorporated residents, as well as some Charleston and Folly Beach residents.
In response, the PSD's letter said it would likely be unconstitutional to treat the district's stakeholders differently, giving a tax credit to some but not others. The letter continued at length to criticize Woolsey, who is an economics professor at The Citadel, and the town, over the handing of Local Option Sales Tax funds.
The Local Option Sales Tax money has been a source of controversy for years on James Island, and a lawsuit in 2015. That's money from the extra 1 percent sales tax Charleston County residents voted years ago to pay, in return for property tax relief for those who pay municipal property taxes.
Aside from the complex taxation issues involved in Woolsey's proposal, the four PSD commissions who signed the letter to the mayor made it clear they want the town's mayor to stay out of their business.