By Paul Gable
The County Council of Charleston County held a public hearing on Tuesday February 3, 2015, on the proposed issuance and sale of general obligation bonds.
According to the public hearing notice, the purpose of the public hearing was to give citizens the opportunity to comment on the issuance and sale of $2.5 million in Fire Protection Service General Obligation Bonds for the Awendaw Fire District before the council took final action on an ordinance approving the bonds.
Read the Public Hearing Notice (Click Here)
The proceeds of the bonds will be used to build a new fire station and purchase three new fire trucks, according to Charleston County records.
On the surface, this seems to be normal procedure for county government. In this case, however, the Awendaw Fire District (officially called the Awendaw Consolidated Fire District) was dissolved on September 24, 2013, after County Council of Charleston County passed third reading of Ordinance # 1786.
Also in Ordinance #1786, the Awendaw-McClellanville Consolidated Fire Protection District was created. However, the structures of the two districts are distinctly different.
Read the Ordinance (Click Here)
To its credit, I guess, County Council of Charleston County amended third reading of the bond ordinance, during the council meeting directly following the public hearing, to reflect the bonds were being purchased for the Awendaw-McClellanville Consolidated Fire Protection District, after being informed of the problem by a concerned citizen.
But, the problem extends to more than just Tuesday’s public hearing and ordinance amendment.
County Council of Charleston County passed third reading of a budget ordinance (Ordinance #1810), on June 17, 2014, for the Fiscal Year July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.
In that budget ordinance, County Council of Charleston County authorized the county auditor to levy a total of 37.9 mills in taxes and the county treasurer to spend a total of $2,433,978 in the Awendaw Consolidated Fire District, a fire district that the council had dissolved nine months before.
Read the Budget Ordinance (Click Here)
On the surface at least, there appears to be no legal basis for Charleston County Council to make these authorizations.
There is no mention of the new Awendaw-McClellanville Consolidated Fire Protection District in the Charleston County government budget for the current fiscal year, even though the new fire district was established nine months before final reading of the budget ordinance.
I’m sure Charleston County government can get its legal eagles to say it’s okay because ‘the council meant this’ or ‘the ordinance should have said that.’
But, is it really legal since the fire districts in question are two distinctly different entities with different tax bases?
And, even if the case for legality can be made and enforced, is it too much to ask the elected representatives of Charleston County to read the legislation they are being asked to vote on before a vote is taken?
The Awendaw Consolidated Fire District was dissolved 17 months ago, yet was still being legislated on as late as Tuesday before a private citizen corrected county officials.
It makes you wonder how much attention the nine members of Charleston County Council, or Charleston County Government senior staff for that matter, are paying to the business of the citizens of Charleston County.
If elected officials are not prepared to perform at least at minimally adequate standards (you know like education standards in the state), they should not run for office. The work on the above ordinances is certainly less than minimally adequate.