James Island Public Service District passes first reading of 2019-20 budget (copy)

The James Island Public Service District Commission discussed the 2019-2020 budget in June.

I would like to respond to the editorial, “James Island PSD must face budget realities,” in the July 1 edition.

First and most important, the town of James Island and the James Island Public Service District are two separate and distinct entities. The JIPSD serves the city of Charleston, the city of Folly Beach, unincorporated Charleston County and the town of James Island, all with equal dedication, expertise and budgetary accountability. But be sure you are aware that JIPSD associates are not employed by the town of James Island. They work for the James Island Public Service District and residents.

The JIPSD has been in existence since 1961 and was not formed to be “independent from Charleston.” It was formed to provide basic living services to island residents before the city of Charleston had any interest in acquiring any part of the island, and long before both J. Palmer Gilliard and Joe Riley began looking with avarice at this green island. It was in existence before the James Island connector was built. The JIPSD was in existence long before the town of James Island was even considered.

The JIPSD is and has been a service organization. JIPSD provides the basic needs of fire and rescue services for the health and welfare of island residents; solid waste collection services to pick up the refuse of our daily lives and add to the welfare of the residents; and wastewater services for much of the island and parts of Folly Beach so septic tanks could be relegated to history, and consistent sewage control and removal could add to the health of island residents where possible.

The town of James Island has to depend on the JIPSD being able to keep its 50-plus-year-old services up to date and in good working order to provide the services the town promises to its residents.

The local option sales tax funds created by you and me and everyone else who purchases goods and services in the county generates much more money for the town of James Island than it requires operationally since it does not directly provide traditional services including law enforcement (Charleston County Sheriff’s Office) and solid waste collection, fire protection and wastewater services (all JIPSD), as well as other municipal responsibilities. These are all by contract or agreement. JIPSD budget discussions include the cost of services to the town residents as well as the rest of the island.

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General fund income is 95% funded by property taxes and the rest from municipal agreements between JIPSD and agencies such as the cities of Folly Beach and Charleston. The general fund expenses include 45% for fire and emergency responses, 21% for solid waste and 18 % for capital expenses, all to keep us safe and to maintain our standard of life.

Wastewater services is a different animal. It affects many of us daily. If something goes wrong, we know it. Customers’ wastewater bill payments generate 88% of the wastewater department’s revenues; it doesn’t not receive any tax revenues. The entire budget is then spent primarily on wastewater treatment on Plum Island (32%), operations and maintenance (33%) and on principal and interest on debts we have incurred for the entire system (13%). The JIPSD wastewater system includes 67 pumping stations, 81 grinder pumps (mostly at Bee Field and Battery Island), 3,246 manholes and over 150 miles of underground wastewater lines that keep wastewater flowing safely off the island.

Every time a new subdivision or apartment complex or business is added to the island, JIPSD’s resources are stretched a little thinner and loaded a little heavier. I am proud that the associates of the JIPSD realize that they have a responsibility to keep expenses as low as possible and keep undue burden off the customers while continuing to provide an exceptional level of service to all.

Alan Laughlin is chairman of the James Island PSD Commission.

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