Over twenty years ago, our first Mayor, Joan Sooy, purchased property for a Town Hall. When the City of Charleston and the South Carolina Supreme Court took the first Town away from the people of James Island, that property was lost, but not the dream. Now that we have a fourth and final incorporation, the Town is ready to move forward.
I made the announcement at the February Council meeting and it was thoroughly discussed at the Budget Workshop in March. We pay $70,000 a year for our rented storefront and there was a strong consensus on Council that we should instead make a permanent investment in a new home. The Town’s 2015-16 budget, which passed unanimously in June, included $200,000 towards the Town Hall.
I hope Council will select an architect and engineering firm at our August meeting. One of that firm’s first tasks will be a needs assessment for the proper size of our Town Hall. I have been thinking that we will need between 25% and 50% more space than our current 4400 square feet—somewhere between 5500 and 7000 square feet, but any final decision must wait. Of course, affordability will also be a major concern. One of our criterion for design will be a Town Hall that is "addition friendly."
In February, I proposed funding Town Hall with a bond issue. Municipalities cannot have mortgages like homeowners or even businesses. After discussion with our bond attorney, we discovered that if the Town sells bonds, South Carolina law requires that we put a millage on the tax bill. I believe that the Town would be required to provide a property tax credit against the resulting tax liability. Of course, I would want to provide such a credit rather than increase taxes on the property owners of our Town.
After further discussions with our attorneys, we determined that lease purchase is a better option than a bond sale. Therefore, the Town has introduced a property tax millage for payment for Town Hall by lease purchase agreement. The Town will also use a small part of the funds to maintain a reserve. As part of the review of the Town's Emergency Plan this spring, our consultant recommended that we begin a reserve fund.
The Town is also providing a property tax credit against this millage. The credit will be sufficient to zero out the tax liability for all taxpayers. While the millage will appear on the tax bill, so will a tax credit equal to the amount of the tax liability. The net tax liability due to the Town will be zero. The Town's proposal to fund Town Hall will not increase anyone's property tax.
In South Carolina, property tax millage is part of the annual budget process. If the millage is not renewed each year, it will be removed. In effect, property tax automatically has a "sunset" provision each and every year. I anticipate asking Council to continue on the current course in the 2016-17 fiscal year. If, however, Council does not approve the millage, the minimum lease payments for Town Hall will still be affordable. Unfortunately, we would have to slow down other capital improvements like paving roads and completing sidewalks for a substantial period of time. The more we pay now, the sooner Town Hall will be paid off and the smaller the total cost. I believe the approach to funding Town Hall that was approved by Council by a 3-2 vote is in the best interest of the Town.
Mayor Bill Woolsey