Johns Island Council met at 6:30pm in order to allow guest speaker, Congressman Leon Stavrinakis, more time to conduct a casual question and answer period with local residents.
Zoning and site design requests around the island
Following up on a request to the City’s Site Design Committee to remove 17 grand trees (the request was deferred last October), the developers for St. Johns Woods have changed their request to removing four grand trees and placing an impervious setback around ten grand trees. Chairman Chris Cannon stated that he spoke with City Arborist Eric Schultz about the request, and Schultz pointed out that two of the grand trees to be removed are gum trees. “Their request has changed tremendously,” said Cannon, noting that the new request seems reasonable.
Cannon also reported that St. Johns Marina has requested to extend special sections of their development due to financial issues.
Lastly, Cannon reported that a request has been made to County Zoning for resource extraction at 4619 Chisolm Road. “If you live near there,” said Cannon, “the problem isn’t so much the digging as the traffic from the trucks hauling the dirt.”
Treasurer Sam Brownlee reported that the Council’s balance is $670.30 and there were no expenses for the month of December. He also reported that there was no CHATS meeting this past month and lastly, “While I’m running my mouth,” he laughed, Brownlee thanked Mayor Holtz of Seabrook Island for writing a letter to the Charleston County Sheriff’s Department requesting more police coverage of Johns Island.
St. Johns Water Utility public workshop
Council members Sam Brownlee and Thomas Legare reported that St. Johns Water Utility will be holding a public workshop concerning the construction of a new operations and maintenance building on January 27 from 5:30pm – 7pm. “If you’re a customer of the water company, we encourage you to come by,” said Legare, noting that the meeting will be a drop-in format.
Before introducing Congressman Stavrinakis, Chairman Cannon stated that he spoke with the SCDOT about putting an “alternate merge” sign in at the base of the Stono bridge where the two lanes become one lane, but was told that alternate merge signs are only used when two separate roads come together. “But I was driving yesterday where two lanes became one and saw a sign that says ‘alternate merge – when congested’,” said Cannon.”I’ll be on the phone with him tomorrow!”
Chat with Leon Stavrinakis
Leon Stavrinakis, House Representative for District 119, Charleston County, spent about an hour answering questions posed by the Johns Island Council and several island residents. Of greatest concern during the meeting was the issue of property taxes and point of sale assessments. Stavrinakis remarked that he personally has been affected by the current structure, pointing out that the value of his house has plummeted since he purchased it in 2007, but his tax bill showed an increase. When he brought it up at the assessor’s office, Stavrinakis stated that he was “blown away by their attitude and their interpretation of state law.” “They basically said that if I didn’t like it, too bad,” said Stavrinakis. “So I’m working on changing it.” He remarked that governments across the United States are starved for funds and many are using point of sale assessments to increase the tax base, even if the home’s value has dropped. “There’s nothing in the law that says they [the assessor’s office] can’t use that price [the last price at which the home was purchased] if it’s not the right price anymore,” said Stavrinakis. “That reassessment should be fair market value, and in an abnormal market, we owe it to people to be fair.” He also pointed out that when a house is purchased in Charleston County, it is automatically given the 6% second home rate. “You have to apply for the primary home 4% rate,” said Stavrinakis.
His solution, he said, it to apply a cap to the point of sale reassessment. This would ensure that homeowners and their neighbors’ taxes were not entirely “out of whack”, and would help prevent the complete gutting of the real estate market. “If you bought commercial property next to land that had been owned for a while, you couldn’t compete,” said Stavrinakis. “If you paid $1 million and wanted to rent out offices, and the guy next to you bought his property several years ago for $250,000, your rent is going to be substantially higher than theirs. No one wanted to buy commercial property based on that.”
Mayor Holtz of Seabrook Island stated that he is concerned about the property transfer tax, as much of Seabrook Island is based on the influx of the transfer tax. “I don’t want that to change,” said Holtz, asking if the transfer tax was also being considered for change in the house bill. Stavrinakis replied that he wasn’t sure, but that there are always unintended consequences when a large bill is passed, either philosophically or by actually law. “The people should be protected,” he stated.
Greg Hollingsworth of Wadmalaw Island asked if Stavrinakis supported the Mark Clark Expressway and how he stood with transportation means across the island, to which Stavrinakis replied that there is a clear need for infrastructure improvement on Johns Island, pointing out that the people of Johns Island would do well to get together and write up what infrastructure improvements they could deal with. As for I-526, Stavrinakis said that it is absolutely needed. “We might not have done the same thirty years ago, but it’s not your fault or mine that growth has made it almost impossible not to build 526.”
Finally, on the issue of education, Stavrinakis stated that one of his biggest jobs right now is “getting done what needs to be done in the district.” The Charleston County School District has an impressive plan, he remarked, but they need money to get it going. “We need to set priorities for where we want to spend money,” said Stavrinakis. “And we need to educate, feed, and provide safety. These are three things we need to do in the long term for the economy.”
The next Johns Island Council meeting will be held on Thursday, February 4, at 7pm at Berkeley Electric Co-Op, located at 3351 Maybank Hwy. For more info, call Chairman Chris Cannon at 343-5113.