James Islanders give their opinion on the annexation bill

NEW COMMENTS ON THE BOTTOM

By Sandra Stringer

We heard from some James Islanders that they felt our piece on the annexation bill was not objective on the subject of turning unincorporated parts of James Island into Town of James Island. They are correct; the article should have included the opposing opinion, so let’s hear from some James Islanders who have given some thought to this issue.

We’d like to have as many opinions as possible, so see the bottom of the article if you’re interested in weighing in, either pro or con.

Here’s what we have so far:

 

Dennis McKiernan A pro Town of James Island annexation piece. Not objective at all. The Town doesn’t provide police, fire, garbage or recycling. It does want to build a multi-million dollar town hall and regulate your property use. Town property taxes are sure to follow. Don’t fall for this.

 

Gloria B. Jenkins I’ll look into it, but recent Town activities make me think I have more freedom in the county than I would have in the Town. I was part of every Town of James Island until this last one and an enthusiastic booster of it, but since they’ve decided the Town has to be restricting property owners’ rights and making us some copycat Mt. Pleasant, I will definitely have to think twice!

James Island Bugle Can you get into more detail about “restricting property owners’ right and making us some copycat of Mt. Pleasant”?

Gloria B. Jenkins Oh, absolutely! Just recently after the stupid “mural” fight against Moe’s Southwest and another restaurant in Mt. Pleasant, James Island decides they need to be involved in murals here on the island. Now, isn’t a business owner’s property his own? Does he need permission to paint it a certain color or a certain type of finish right now? No. He needs a permit for the work, that’s all. Just like you would if you were having the a/c redone or the roof replaced. But now, James Island wants to put limits on the type of mural you can have and have the square footage of the thing count towards the total space allowed with a “sign ordinance”. And a few years ago, after Charleston and Mt. Pleasant decided to ban bars being open past 2 am, James Island has to follow along with that. Then they banned smoking in bars and James Island followed right along. You can like smoking or not, or like bars being open or not, but the fact is that many James Islanders were not in favor of these changes. Many of us thought it was not the business of the town to tell private business owners how to run their business to fit some “HOA” version of the Town that they imagined. This is not how we envisioned the Town being when we first started getting it incorporated and it’s not my idea of how it should be now. We started this so we wouldn’t have the City of Charleston milking us for tax money and telling us how to live. Now we have the Town of James Island telling us how to live! That’s not what we bargained for!

Anonymous  I purposely live in unincorporated county for less restrictions on my private property. I’m fine if you want to give individuals the options to annex into the town like they can into the city of charleston but forcing people into the town by a simple majority vote is not fair to individual property owners! We’re already subject to over development on our sea island why also force us into more rule and restrictions. If i wanted that I would have bought a house in an HOA.

 

Bill Woolsey, Mayor of James Island  For many years, critics of the Town have claimed that it provides no services and that this somehow implies that the Town must raise taxes in the future.

Recently, I heard the claim that the Town provides no police, fire, garbage or recycling.

Law enforcement in the Town is provided by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. Charleston County Sheriff, Al Cannon, is not supportive of the Town having an independent police force. I believe it is unnecessary and expensive.

The Town has instead developed the Island Sheriff’s Patrol. We pay extra in order to have additional Sheriff’s Deputies provide law enforcement in the Town. So, the Town does provide for law enforcement, though without an independent police force. Sargent Shawn James coordinates the Island Sheriff’s Patrol. He gives a report at all the Town meetings. He very much is concerned with protecting and serving the people of the Town.

If the unincorporated area of James Island returns to the Town, the Island Sheriff’s Patrol will also provide extra law enforcement in those areas. This means that if you have speeding problems on your street, you can call Town Hall, and we will assign additional patrols the control the problem. If there are break-ins in your area, there will be extra patrols at night.

The Town of James Island primarily receives fire protection from the James Island Public Service District (JIPSD.) Those in the unincorporated area of James Island also primarily receive fire protection from the JIPSD. If the unincorporated area of James Island returns to the Town, there will be no change in fire protection. It will continue to be primarily provided by the JIPSD. Those in the Town pay property tax to the JIPSD for fire services. Those in the unincorporated area of James Island also pay taxes to the JIPSD for fire services. If the unincorporated area of James Island returns to the Town, there will be no change in the property taxes paid for fire serves.

For many years now, there has been a mutual aid agreement between the JIPSD fire department and the City of Charleston (and Folly Beach) fire departments. For this reason, the City of Charleston fire department helps the JIPSD fight fires in the Town of James Island and the unincorporated area of James Island. This will continue if the unincorporated area of James Island is returned to the Town of James Island.

The people in the Town and in the unincorporated area pay nothing directly to the City of Charleston for this help, but the taxes collected by the JIPSD pay for the James Island Fire Department, and the James Island Fire Department helps fight fires in other areas, especially in the areas of James Island annexed to the City of Charleston (or the City of Folly Beach.) None of this will change if the unincorporated area of James Island returns to the Town.

One of the strangest elements of our local public finances is that while James Islanders who annex to the City of Charleston or the City of Folly Beach pay no taxes to the JIPSD, the City of Charleston and the City of Folly Beach pay the JIPSD an amount equal to the property taxes those property owners would have paid to the JIPSD for fire services if they had not been annexed. These payments are required by a federal court order. The reason for the order is a federal statute that protects entities receiving federal loans to provide water , sewer, or fire services.

If the Town of James Island were to provide its own fire service independent of the JIPSD, the Town would be subject to the same federal law. As long as the JIPSD owes money to the federal government, the Town would be required to pay a substantial portion (approximately half) of the cost of the JIPSD service, while providing a duplicate fire service of our own. Since only a small fraction of the City of Charleston and Folly Beach is made up of areas annexed on James Island, this wasteful practice imposes a tolerable burden on their budgets. Since all of the Town of James Island is on James Island, this federal law makes a fire department independent of the JIPSD not only irrational but also economically unfeasible for the Town.

The Town of James Island receives solid waste collection (garbage and trash) from the JIPSD. Those in the unincorporated area of James Island also receive solid waste collection from the JIPSD. If the unincorporated portion of James Island were returned to the Town, this would not change. Those in the Town and the unincorporated area pay for this service with property taxes levied by the JIPSD. If the unincorporated portion of James Island were returned to the Town, this should not impact the property taxes needed to pay for this service, either for old or new residents of the Town.

The Town levies a property tax and provides an equal property tax credit resulting in no net property tax liability due the Town. The percent of property taxes paid by Town residents that go to the Town is zero. We will do the same for all the new residents if the Town is reunited.

I have asked the JIPSD to provide solid waste services to the residents of the Town by contract, while reducing the amount of property taxes they collect in the Town. If the majority of JIPSD Commissioners agree, then a substantial property tax reduction would be possible. If the unincorporated portion of James Island is returned to the Town, such a plan would be simpler since all property taxpayers in the JIPSD could have the same, lower property tax rate.

Recycling is provided to residents of the Town of James Island by Charleston County. Charleston County also provides the service to residents of the unincorporated portion of James Island as well as residents of the City of Charleston. Payment for this is a $99 fee on the property tax bill. There would be no change if those in the unincorporated area of James Island rejoin the Town. Charleston County would continue to provide the service to both new and old residents of the Town. It would foolish and wasteful for the Town of James Island to have a separate recycling program.

The Town provides services. The Town has staff providing planning and zoning, building, code enforcement, business license, and public works services. We work closely with Charleston County in many of these areas. Still, our goal is for our residents who need these services to be able to do everything here on James Island and avoid a trip to Bridgeview in North Charleston. The Town has been very successful in leveraging our funds to pay for public works improvements. We have paved roads and constructed sidewalks. While County crews do substantial basic public works in the Town, just as they do in the unincorporated area of James Island, the Town regularly supplements this work with private contracts paid with Town money, especially when backlogs create long delays for the County. The Town maintains and has improved Dock Street Park and is preparing to open Pinckney Park.

Taxes in the Town, even when including the JIPSD property tax, are lower than in the City of Charleston. There are few cost savings compared to being in the County, but one is that the storm water fee in the Town is only $48 rather than the $72 now charged by the County.

Henry Horres  Mayor Woolsey has it all figured out. But much of what he writes make no sense at all. The reason the Town of James Island came into being was to avoid annexation into the City of Charleston by big bad Joe Riley, and to give its residence some vestige of “Home Rule.” The idea was we would not have to look to Charleston City Council, or anyone else, when it came to equitable distribution of public goods and services.

Without a police force, fire department, housing authority, or ombudsman; home rule is never going to be a reality. Yes the Town does have a few services, but mostly to impose restrictions that limit individual rights. And it is not sufficiently staffed to consistently enforce those restrictions.

As to having its own police force, there are several municipalities in the Low Country that are half the size of the Town of James Island that have a standing police force. They don’t have to compete with the entire County for law enforcement resources. Their officers know the streets, businesses and most importantly, the people in their communities. They regularly patrol their Town and usually live in them. They are very sensitive to their roles as peace officers and are more, what you might call “user friendly.” And if crime gets out of hand, the citizens can take their concerns directly to the Mayor. Based upon national averages, the Town should have 20 sworn officers and administration personnel. Look at towns of similar size like Beaufort and Goose Creek for examples.

The same principal applies where firefighters are concerned. The JIPSD has done an excellent job in the past, but the Island is growing rapidly. Homes today are made of far more flammable material and require a response time in minutes to ensure residents don’t become victims. Firemen who live in the Town will know the “lay of the land” and be more likely to know exactly where their jurisdiction is. The way the annexation has been gerrymandered thus far, that can save precious minutes in response time when lives hang in the balance.

Make no mistake, Mayor Woolsey is not going to take on anymore responsibilities than he has to. But he will gladly annex all the property he can into the Town. He is little different than former Mayor Joe Riley in that respect. Perhaps less than a few hundred property owners would really want to be annexed into the Town if they really knew how little good it will do them. The Town rarely responds to citizens concerns and Woolsey has primarily busied himself with self aggrandizing association with projects driven by other governmental agencies. Yes the town has paved perhaps a mile or so of road and made sidewalks available to many people who really don’t need easy access between neighborhoods. Yet roads in many subdivisions are like those in third world countries and there is a huge axle breaker rut as you come out of Town Hall onto Camp. As it stands today, the Town of James Island will never be much more than an overblown civics club that is as much a true municipality as Barney Fife was a deputy sheriff.

As to making sense? Well at least not to me. This is an except from his justification for annexation and the lack of service which citizens of most towns expect and enjoy. He states, “As long as the JIPSD owes money to the federal government, the Town would be required to pay a substantial portion (approximately half) of the cost of the JIPSD service, while providing a duplicate fire service of our own. Since only a small fraction of the City of Charleston and Folly Beach is made up of areas annexed on James Island, this wasteful practice imposes a tolerable (sic) burden on their budgets.”

Perhaps he feels if he pontificates enough, no one will actually read what he writes and just take his work for it. Ah, it’s good to be Mayor!

If you have a comment you’d like to add to this page in response to the annexation article, either for or against, send your comment to jamesislandbugle@gmail.com, and let us know if you’d like it with your name or with “Anonymous”.

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