By Barney Blakeney
Residents of traditional Black communities East of the Cooper may be more vocal about a proposed Charleston County ordinance that would require property owners to tap into water and sewer lines than some others, but it’s an issue those residents say could have a dire impact countywide.
Charleston County Council proposed an ordinance that no longer requires property owners to be in incorporated areas to access water and/or sewer lines. And like most legislative ordinances, the proposal is complicated and includes elements of taxation and penalties. The ordinance already has received first reading approval of the three readings necessary for final approval.
The African American Settlement Community Historic Commission East of the Cooper has mounted a challenge to the proposed ordinance. The commission is posing several questions that include: how will the taxes be assessed; why is it necessary to have a tax in addition to the water service fee; how is the connection fee provided in low income communities; what are the penalties and fines; and could a lien be placed on the property?
AASCHC President John Wright said in a May 2 letter to councilmembers, “The stunning announcement of the proposed ordinance for ‘mandatory’ connection to water and/or sewer lines, establishing a water and sewer special tax district … is deeply concerning … It has the potential to make settlement communities extremely vulnerable to over development.”
Wright said tap-in fees could cost as much as $15,000 and that sets some low income property owners up for a land grab. Former Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall agrees. In the past, federal grants have helped some property owners pay for tap-ins to water and/or sewer lines. Mandatory tap-in without such assistance sets some property owners up like sitting ducks for developers, she said. Property owners who fail to stay informed make that easy for developers who realize much of the undeveloped land in the county are in traditional Black settlement communities, she said.
Charleston County’s three African American representatives opposed first reading approval of the ordinance. County Council deferred the May 7 second reading of the ordinance. “As President of the African American Historic Settlement Community Commission, Inc., we request a deferment on this ordinance for one calendar year to allow stakeholders/taxpayers additional time for public input and a more detailed analysis of potential Economic and Community impact,” the East Cooper group asked in its May 2 letter. “That’s what we’re dealing with,” Stokes-Marshall added.