After the new councilmembers and I were elected in 2017, we established a new direction for Mount Pleasant. Our shared vision is of a unique, Lowcountry coastal suburban town with a high quality of life.
That vision as stated in my first State of the Town Address in June 2018, is the Palmetto Principle, which has three tenets: Protect, Plan, and Restore. Teamwork has led to steady progress. The actions of council that fulfill the “protect” tenet grab the headlines. Examples include: Residential building permit allocation limiting growth to a sustainable 2%; increased tree and greenspace protection including stricter requirements for new development; protecting attainable/affordable housing and neighborhood character through reasonable and enforceable rules for short term rentals; limiting impervious surface coverage on residential lots to reduce stormwater runoff; purchasing the Wando Dock on Shem Creek to protect the future of our local fleet; funding police officers in every public school; increasing manpower in the fire department in response to growth. We’re in a leadership role in addressing social perils like the opioid crisis and human trafficking by hosting a region-wide Our Community/Our Children seminar that addresses those issues.
But when we plan, we don’t make the news, but the work leads to important acts of town council. One of the crucial issues is transitioning Mount Pleasant’s business economy and our government’s from being residential construction dependent to a more diverse and modern economy of the 21st Century. One of the first things this council authorized is the Mayor’s Economic and Business Development Panel, chaired by Alan Bolduc, who served on the last such committee years ago, as did committee member Rick Crosby, Chairman of Mount Pleasant Waterworks. The committee of a dozen business leaders includes legal experts in economic development, a Boeing executive who is also a town native, local merchants, leaders in the shipping, trucking, IT and hospitality industries. Mount Pleasant recently landed the headquarters of Beacon Bank, the first newly chartered bank in the state in a decade. Others will follow.
Everyone has been well aware from the start of the town’s five-year financial horizon and the budget needs caused not by limiting development, but by dealing with the effects of the town’s prior rampant growth.
This panel will produce an economic development strategic plan that aligns the town with the successful strategy of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, which has brought 50,000 jobs to our region. Currently, 36% of business activity in our town is construction related. Regardless of individual opinions about growth, in the not-too-distant future, we will reach buildout. The problem with being a boomtown is that when there’s no more boom, there’s still a town.
We are facing issues caused by past decisions such as leaving development impact fees static for 20 years despite rising costs of infrastructure; leaving developer incentives in place from the Great Recession; rezoning the last land zoned for workforce (affordable) housing to be developed as expensive homes; industrial and commercially-zoned land that would have provided jobs, economic development, and a higher tax base were rezoned for residential development..
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the town’s future revenue needs.
Each new home adds about $1,300 per year in expense to the town. Only homes valued over $800,000 contribute more than that amount in tax revenue. At current assessment values, each mil of tax rate (current total is 41 mils) adds $800,000 in tax revenue. Five-year projections show a need for roughly $10 million more in tax revenues. Taking the quick and easy path of fixing this only by raising property taxes would mean a whopping 30% property tax increase. No elected body in the free world has the stomach for that.
Before government asks its citizens to do with less, it should take a hard look at its spending and find ways to reduce costs without reducing services. We have had multi-million dollar annual operating surpluses for years, and we will continue to look everywhere for savings.
Mount Pleasant has almost half a decade to find a multi-faceted approach to the right budget solution and that process is well underway.
Will Haynie is the mayor of Mount Pleasant.