Woolsey signals new direction for Town, enter formal collaboration with County on services
By Charlie Morrison
The first three weeks of the fourth incorporated Town of James Island have done much in illustrating what this version of the municipality will really look like, how it will be managed, and what its stance will be with regards to its neighbors. The picture that has emerged of that is a slimmer, friendlier Town of James Island, one willing to swallow its pride in the name of its citizenry. In that vein, the Town was busy last week forging relationships with Charleston County. From the discussions emerged an official intergovernmental agreement between the two that allows the Town to outsource a number of services to County on a fee-for-service basis.
County Administrator Kurt Taylor addressed the issue of the agreement at last Tuesday’s meeting of County Council. Taylor stated that he entered into discussions with James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey on the agreement, and that the two were close to finalizing a deal providing for the County managing some Town programs. O building inspections, floodplain management, zoning and planning, business licensing, and stormwater maintenance. During the County meeting it Taylor outlined the mechanics of the agreement.
“It’s simply a matter of inter-governmental assistance and we wanted to make Council aware of it,” said Taylor. “We’re requesting that you actually vote on it as there is an element of time pressure in that citizens within the Town can continue to receive these services.” The measure was ultimately passed.
Also discussed and voted on at Tuesday’s meeting involved the County reprogramming over $1.1 million in urban greenbelt funds back to the Town of James Island’s urban allocation. The Town lost control of what was then nearly $1.9 million in greenbelt funds when it was dissolved in 2011. Later on that year, the County re-allocated some of that money for a project in the Ten Mile Community of Mt. Pleasant. Ultimately, $1,101,451 was reprogrammed to the Town for its use as per the Charleston County Greenbelt program.
Unlike County Administrator Taylor, James Island Mayor Woolsey was required to seek his Council’s approval before entering into an agreement with the County. The issue was on the agenda of last Thursday’s meeting of James Island Town Council. Before the Town could address the issue, however, it turned its attention to the matter of greenbelt money. Former James Island Town Councilman and current Charleston County Councilman Joe Qualey stepped to the microphone to open the meeting’s public commentary period to state in person that the reprogramming of greenbelt funds back to the Town.
“If you’ve been following any of these Greenbelt funds, there’s a lot of competition for them, and for us to be able to keep that money without it being grabbed by some other entity was good, it was a success. I’m glad to present that news to y’all,” said Qualey. “It seems like the transition that we had hoped for, Mr. Mayor, a seamless, smooth transition is happening … so I’ll just leave it at that. I think the Town is in great hands and once again, congratulations.”
The night’s business consisted of passing a series of ordinances aligning the Town’s policy on a number of issues with those of the County, thereby paving the way for the passage of the intergovernmental agreement. That ordinance provided the Mayor the authority to enter into an agreement for building services, flood plain management, planning services, code enforcement, storm water utility, and business license collection. In most cases, the County will manage the Town’s programs under the agreement, collecting a fee for each service provided. The Town off h case represented revenue for the County and the prospect of uninterrupted service for the Town. How the County would be compensated for public works contract work had yet to be negotiated at press time.
The provision for ending the agreement with the County raised more than a few eyebrows on Council. The Town could opt out of the agreement by informing the County in December, with the Council phasing out its role until the following July, although some items such as flood plain management and the stormwater utility will likely continue to be Town programs managed by the County.
First-term Councilman Sam Kernodle wasn’t shy in expressing his criticism of the agreement, noting that it provided Mayor Woolsey the power to alter the document without Council oversight. “I’m all about the County doing the thing that they need to be doing for us, but I don’t want say, ‘yes, you can sign any governmental agreement without having to read it again,” said Kernodle.
Councilman Leonard Blank backed Kernodle’s critique. “I don’t disagree with that. I appreciate everything the County’s done, I think they’ve helped us out a lot, but we went through growing pains in the last Town to be an up and running town. We didn’t need anybody else to do anything, and I think that’s our goal. I would like to see the final agreement,” said Blank.
“I would ask you to have confidence that I will only sign this if there’s no fundamental change (to the agreement),” said Mayor Woolsey in response to the concerns of his colleagues. Mayor Woolsey then informed Council that the issue was time time sensitive, noting that Town Hall had already received calls regarding business licenses, and that Town residents could not acquire the license through the County until the agreement had been signed. In the end, the idea of standing in the way of a small business owner seemed to quell dissent and the resolution to enter the agreement with the County ultimately passed by a 4-1 vote, with Kernodle dissenting.