By Barney Blakeney
Last week Charleston City Council gave first reading passage to the city’s 2019 budget. Councilmembers were asked what the proposed $223 million budget means for the city’s approximately 30 percent Black population.
In the city where redevelopment and gentrification has dwindled its Black population from about 70 percent in 1980 to less than 30 percent today, some often question how the economic dynamics in the city will impact its Black residents. Dist. 3 Councilman James Lewis and Dist. 6 Councilman William Dudley Gregorie say the city’s 2019 budget will significantly impact Black residents. From employee salaries to affordable housing and recreation, the budget has various aspects that will specifically impact Blacks, they said.
Three budget proposals were submitted at council’s Dec. 4 meeting – one from Mayor John Tecklenburg, another from council’s ad hoc budget committee and a third from Gregorie. The ad hoc committee’s budget was the only one to survive.
Lewis said he supported the committee’s budget because it included January raises for city employees. City employees will receive raises from about 7 percent to nine percent if the budget expected to pass Dec. 19 is approved. Lewis said that means raises to about $12 per hour for Black employees who he says represents the majority of lower wage workers employed in sanitation and streets and sidewalks. Lewis qualified the benevolence of city administrators noting employee raises are necessary because Charleston over the past several years has lost about 17 percent of its employees to other municipalities which pay more.
And while the budget includes a property tax increase, Black homeowners may be less impacted because the highest tax payments will be made on homes valued at about $400,000 or more, Lewis said. He reasoned most Black homeowners in the city have property valued less.
Gregorie agreed increased wages will more profoundly impact Black workers. “With the increase in our minimum wage, the two percent cost of living increase and additional salary increases for our non-sworn employees, this budget looks darn good,” he said.
Some other aspects of the budget also may have a greater impact on Blacks in the city, Gregorie expects. Money is in the budget to rehabilitate Stoney Field where predominantly Black Burke High School conducts most of its athletic games and funding for swimming pools on the peninsula near predominantly Black housing complexes will offer improved amenities to residents, he said. Affordable housing initiatives on the peninsula Eastside and the Maryville community also will impact Black residents, Gregorie added.