On July 1, the Post and Courier weighed in on the conflict among James Island Public Service District commissioners about their property tax in “James Island PSD must face long-term budget realities.” The commission chairman responded with “James Island PSD is proud of exceptional service, customer focus” on July 29.
Those who followed the debate know that most commissioners believe that the 13% property tax increase in 2018 was excessive for the two stated purposes — increased pay for firefighter recruits and replacement of the Camp Road Fire Station. They sought to reduce property tax by 2 mills, leaving about 75% of last year’s increase intact. Their view was that millage should only be increased after projects are debated and approved by the commission.
Incredibly, the newspaper blamed the existence of the town of James Island for the tax hike. If we all annexed into the city of Charleston, none of us would pay any PSD property taxes. But the PSD property tax for homeowners surpassed the city’s for the first time last year. Further, city homeowners paid less only because they benefit from the local option sales tax credit. Those of us in the PSD continued to pay less on cars and boats as did owners of business and rental property. More importantly, the city’s millage increase this year will push its property tax on homeowners back above the PSD’s. Annexation into the city is no answer.
The newspaper suggested that the commissioners ask the town to change our zoning to allow more commercial and multifamily development. Apparently, intense development of our island will solve PSD budget problems.
The town encourages business to open in our “Commercial Core” centered at Camp and Folly. The town has worked with Charleston County and the city to adopt the Folly Road Overlay and implement the Rethink Folly Road Plan. Both will improve the town’s commercial district, generating more revenue for both the town and the PSD.
Most of the town is zoned single-family residential with a density of three units per acre. We have a few multifamily complexes that already existed before the town was first incorporated. However, the town is mostly “built out” and rezoning our few remaining vacant lots to multifamily will not significantly increase property tax revenue.
This is all about The Post and Courier’s support for so-called “smart growth,” with James Island slated for dense urbanization so that outlying areas can remain rural. We are fine with protecting rural areas, but few, if any, are willing to accept their plan for our island.
It may cost more to add new infrastructure in rural areas than on a hypothetical hyper-dense James Island. However, the PSD is not going to pay anything for services off of James Island, and it would bear heavy costs for added infrastructure if we allow developers to raze our existing neighborhoods and replace them with giant gathering places similar to what is being built in the area annexed by the city on Maybank near Folly.
Unlike municipalities, which have many sources of revenue that keep pace with inflation, the PSD depends entirely on property taxes to fund fire protection and solid waste collection.
That is why the town is working with the commissioners to provide a credit against the PSD property tax. The town’s other sources of revenue can be used to help pay for the services the PSD provides to town residents. If the commissioners approve the Cost Sharing Agreement with the town, homeowners in the town will pay about 30% less property tax to the PSD than what homeowners pay to the city.
Bill Woolsey is the mayor of James Island.