Friday, October 18, 2013
In Councilman Chris Nickel’s recent letter regarding the new town hall for Mount Pleasant, he made a solid case to “replace not just keep repairing” the existing facilities, based on safety, functionality and economics, and I agree wholeheartedly with council’s decision.
However, I strongly disagree that it should be built at Houston Northcutt Boulevard, a site that has been occupied by the Town of Mount Pleasant for some 25 years. Back when Mount Pleasant was a much smaller town, with a population in 1990 that was well less than half of what it is today, and with the huge majority of its citizens living south of Snee Farm, this location made perfect sense. Not so today.
In early 2011 our town officials, to their credit, commissioned a committee to study alternatives for replacing the municipal complex (town hall) presently located on Houston Northcutt. In its recommendations to council in 2011, the town hall committee acknowledged the problems with the existing facilities, and recommended replacement. Importantly, the committee was very clear in recommending that any future town hall should be sited closer to the center of town, since rapid growth of our town has continually moved the population center further to the north.
The committee in its minutes pointed out that the Isle Of Palms Connector was approximately the center of town in 2011,
I agree completely with the committee’s recommendation. We need a central location, and centralizing now is a ripe opportunity for our town that will undoubtedly continue growing steadily for the next 10 to 25 or more years.
Unfortunately, town officials chose to not act on the committee’s recommendation, opting instead to build on the existing site on Houston Northcutt. Councilman Nickels concluded in his recent letter, as to how the project would be funded, “We have also identified a funding source for this project, which will spare the town’s general fund and future citizens from the burden of financing a much needed asset.” Left unsaid is that this source is Tax Increment Financing (TIF).
While the three central area options the committee favored may be problematic, the decision to build at Houston Northcutt appears to have been driven largely by the fact that the location happens to lie in an existing TIF district.
TIF, to my understanding is intended for economic development projects that will attract businesses and other investment in a particular (often blighted) area, thus growing the tax base and eventually providing more income to the municipality.
Surely it is a stretch to argue that a new municipal complex qualifies as economic development; granted TIF has been used in some cities and counties (wrongly, in my opinion) for community projects.
Citizens typically have no voice in whether their city or county can use TIF funds for specific projects, even though their tax dollars helped, or will help in the future, to fund By using TIF. The unpleasant task of asking for voter consent to raise $22 million (current estimate) for this project, especially in a wrong location given the town’s growth is conveniently avoided.
I do not know whether council sought citizen input before it decided on Houston Northcutt.
The only recent public involvement in the town hall project that I’m aware of has been an invitation to participate on a website www.engagetompsc.com) to offer design and concept ideas, to which a grand total of a few dozen people have made inputs.
I believe that council should take another hard look at options for a central location, figure out way(s) for financing a preferred choice, then present a convincing case to the taxpayers. Let the voters decide. This is a big deal.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the students and directors of the Wando High School Choral Department for including the SEWEE Association, and our message of environmental conservation, in the Oct. 8 fall concert.
The theme for the fall concert was “Out of this World” and celebrated the earth and our natural resources. The program included beautifully performed arrangements of “Circle of Life” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The final number included a slide show featuring the habitat and wildlife of the Francis Marion National Forest and Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. During the performance students shared with the audience facts about these lands and the human impacts on these ecosystems. They also shared with the audience a couple of simple things they could do to make a difference like using reusable shopping bags rather than plastic and changing incandescent light bulbs to compact florescent.
Director Eric Wilkinson and Associate Director Mary Elizabeth Goodson, and students are to be commended for their artistic presentation of an important conservation message.
They are also to be commended for their commitment to giving back to the community.
As the friends group to our coastal national wildlife refuges and national forest, the SEWEE Association is committed to encouraging citizen stewardship of our public lands. Although these lands are protected, people, and the decisions we make as consumers, still have a profound impact on these ecosystems. We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to share an important message about our coastal resources.
These resources add a tremendous amount to our quality of life here in the Lowcountry, and it is up to each and every one of us to protect these important places.
We use more than 1,200 plastic bags per U.S. resident, per year. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags.
The beautiful slideshow from the concert will be on our Facebook page soon. You can also check out our Facebook page to see what the kids in our environmental education programs are up to. Visit facebook.com/seweeassociation.
Grace Lynch Gasper