|After nearly four hours of debate and public comment, Charleston City Council voted 7-6 to approve a property tax increase to fund public safety measures. (Photo/Leslie Burden)|
By Lauren Ratcliffe
Published Feb. 27, 2013
Teachers, parents and school administrators implored Charleston City Council to approve a property tax increase to fund a team of police officers tasked with patrolling in and around the city’s elementary schools.
The 3.5 mill tax increase will also fund the construction, staffing and equipment for two fire stations.
After nearly four hours of debate and public comment, City Council voted 7-6 in favor of the increase, which is expected to generate $3.48 million in additional revenue.
Council members James Lewis, Robert Mitchell, William Gregorie, Perry Waring, Dean Riegel and Bill Moody voted with Mayor Joe Riley in support of the bill. Members Gary White, Blake Hallman, Marvin Wagner, Michael Seekings, Aubry Alexander and Kathleen Wilson were opposed.
For a homeowner whose property has an appraised value of $250,000, their yearly tax bill will increase $35.
The public waits outside Charleston City Council chambers. (Photo/Leslie Burden)
|City Council members listen to public comment before voting on a property tax increase. (Photo/Leslie Burden)|
Most commercial property owners, including homeowners who rent their properties, will pay an additional $21 for every $100,000 in appraised value.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said he was thrilled with the outcome of the vote but noted that the decision was not made lightly. He said he will immediately begin hiring the 19 police officers so they can graduate from the police academy and be trained in time for the start of school next fall.
City CFO Steve Bedard said the tax increase was set at exactly the amount needed for the first year, and that more money will be needed in subsequent years to maintain the programs. He said the city will be relying on natural growth of the tax base to raise the additional funds.
“I can completely assure you that every penny of this will be spent on public safety,” he said.
Council members who were opposed to the increase said they agreed with the goals of the program, but wanted to find alternative sources of funding.
Councilman Wagner, whose district would receive one of the two fire stations, said he made his decision after speaking with the people he represents.
“My vote is going to be no not because I don’t love the children. Not because I don’t want a fire station in my district, but because my constituents want a ‘no’ vote,” he said.
Councilman White led the opposition’s plea to look for funding avenues other than tax increases.
“No one said they are against protecting children,” he said. “I have three children in school and I want to see them protected like everyone else. My challenge is ultimately how you pay for it.”
Mayor Riley was energetic in his plea before City Council saying that the fire stations were essential to protect tax-paying citizens who are currently at risk. He also said there were no alternative funding measures he could find.
“We’ve got a property tax and we’ve got a business license tax,” he said. “If we want something more than we are doing now… we’ve got to pay for it.”
After an attempt to defer voting on the measure failed 7-6, the vote to approve the tax passed without fanfare or further debate.