We have all known of people who belong to this latter group: Madoff, Wrangle, Parish, Weiner, and of late, Blago. We have marveled at the fact that folks of this ilk seem to seldom if ever get punished adequately for their bad behavior. If they are finally brought to task, years of damage and economic carnage have passed. It is doubly frustrating and annoying when these people are elected officials handling our tax dollars.
Well, take heart. Sometimes, there is such a thing as poetic justice. Sometimes, these folks push the envelope a bit too far. Sometimes, they try to add just one more straw to the overburdened camel's back and they are brought to account for their actions. We have such a case to report today.
All of the regular GE&P readers know and cringe at many of the policies of the present BC administration:
You knew it was wrong when the Supervisor acted in direct opposition to a vote of County Council concerning the re-branding of the BCW&SA. All he had to do to get out of that little mess was say, " Ooops, my bad" and go his merry way with many of his illegal changes left in place due to the expense to the County of changing everything back to the way it was. First big win for the Supervisor.
You all knew it was wrong when the Supervisor allowed a $2.4 Million water line with less than 10 tap-ins to be installed, without the knowledge of full Council, to the relative front door of a Councilman's house because he needed the support of this Councilman to establish his vote control. The criticism of this project was manipulated by it's supporters and culminated in the opposition being dubbed "racists". The fact that this project was not economically feasible was pushed to the sideline and deemed immaterial. Eventually, the furor died down, the water line was installed, and the Councilman's support was secured. The Supervisor wins, again.
You all knew it was wrong when the Supervisor proposed taking back 29% of the property tax relief derived from the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST). The first two times the LOST was proposed, the taxpayers voted it down by referendum. This new tax succeeded only when Council vowed that "100% of the revenue derived from the tax would be applied to property tax relief". The Supervisor ignored this promise, misinformed some members of Council, and mustered sufficient votes to take the 29%. Since, he has used these funds to finance some of his wasteful spending. The Supervisor wins, again.
You all knew it was wrong when the Supervisor proposed a 30% increase in the water and sewer rates. At that time, BCW&SA had an enormous fund balance. (Funds contained in the fund balance are deemed "surplus", comparable to a savings account.) The Supervisor blamed the necessity for this increase on the rules of the bonding companies. He explained that the bonding companies required a mandatory ratio between revenue and the debt. Several of his advisors testified to Council that this was, in fact, true. The incomprehensible element to this argument was that the size of the surplus had no impact on this ratio. (Would it not be astounding if, at one point in time, a BC advisor, after being shown documented proof that this person had provided misinformation to Council, answered, "I know that, but, if one lies with enough conviction, the statement will be taken for the truth.") A sufficient number of Councilmen were convinced of the necessity for the increase and the measure passed. The Supervisor wins, again.
You all knew it was wrong when the Supervisor began referring to BCW&SA as a "department" of BC government. You voiced disapproval when he announced that he proposed a "transfer" of funds from the fund balance of W&S to the general fund of BC government. He defended this action by saying it made no sense for one "department" to borrow needed funds when another "department" had surplus funds just laying around unused. In January, 2008, Resolution 08-01 was approved "to transfer an amount not to exceed $10 Million from the BCW&SA to the BC General Fund". The Supervisor wins, again.
You all knew it was very wrong when the Supervisor decided to cut out all opportunity for opposition to his policies by reorganizing County Council Rules. Existing Rules and precedent were violated or ignored; the Committee system was bastardized; and, in the end game, only the Supervisor's supporters on Council had any control over the decision making process. With positive input from the County advisors ratifying the process to establish all these changes, the new Rules were put into place. Since that "reorganization", four members of County Council have had no input whatsoever in the policy making process of BC government. Consequently, when the Supervisor now makes a proposal, no matter how outrageous, the vote is always 4/4 with the Supervisor breaking the tie in his favor. This maneuver was a genuine coup and the Supervisor wins, again.
You all knew it was wrong when, considering the state of the economy, the Supervisor proposed his new Capitol Improvements plan: the $6 Million purchase of the old fairgrounds property (using the seller's appraisal) to locate the $22 Million "Dan Davis Health and Human Services Campus", a proposed new $3 Million court house in St. Stephen to secure another Councilman's supporting vote, a proposed multi-million dollar library in Hanahan that even the Mayor of that town doesn't support, spending millions of dollars on expanding the senior citizens center in Moncks Corner, and playing musical chairs with numerous agencies in the county at a cost of more millions of taxpayer's dollars. The actual list of proposed projects is far too long to include here. We only named the most egregious offenders. With the cooperation of his supporters on County Council, the Supervisor obtained approval for this agenda. Another win for the Supervisor.
At last, we come to the part where the tide changes. As a wise man once said, "Be careful that you don't drive something into the ground until you break it off." Unfortunately for the Supervisor, his actions at Monday night's County Council meeting indicate he has never heard this cautionary tale.
Late last week it became public knowledge that the Supervisor intended to submit a budget Ordinance for fiscal year 2011/2012 that would combine the BC budget with that of the BCW&SA. It was argued in many circles that this rumored move was highly unlikely due to the fact that extensive research proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that BC Law and SC Statute clearly forbade such action. If anyone would like to read the statutes for themselves, please refer to S.C. Code Ann. 6-1-300 through 6-1-330, S.C. Code Ann. 4-9-30(5)(a), and BC 1992 Ordinance NO. 92-06-08. The proof that the language of the 1992 Ordinance has never been repealed can be found in BC 2010 Ordinance No. 10-07-18.
When this combined budget was introduced during the Finance Committee meeting Monday night, Councilman Callanan referenced the 2008 Resolution transferring funds out of the BCW&SA's fund balance and suggested the County would be following a slippery slope if this combined budget was to be adopted. He suggested that the County would be placing itself in a precarious legal position. Mr. Calanan voiced some concern that the head of Finance, Mrs. Smith, at a previous meeting, had indicated that Council could vote to forgive the debt to W&S if it should so choose. He said this action, should it happen, would leave W&S at a disadvantage concerning the recoupment of its funds. The Supervisor, however, put everyone's concerns to rest when he announced that he wanted to adopt this combined budget strictly for the convenience of simplicity and that he had no intention of commingling the funds. (Well Sir, we don't know about you but that assurance surely takes a load off our mind. Silly us thought this whole exercise was formulated so BC government could get it's hands on BCW&SA's surplus. We are truly relieved that we were mistaken.)
Also, Mr. Callanan made a motion that any revenue collected that exceeded expenditures under the 2011/2012 budget be dedicated to property tax relief. He said his goal was to return some of the 29% from the LOST to the taxpayers.
Councilman Fish introduced a motion that a continuing resolution be adopted so that Council could hold a workshop on his budget analysis that could save the County approximately $1 Million. Also, he quoted the BC law that states the "transfer" of the $5 Million from the BCW&SA fund balance was illegal. Needless to say, both Mr. Callanan's motion and Mr. Fish's motion failed when a vote was taken in full Council. You have to remember these two Councilmen have no vote on the Finance Committee thanks to the Supervisor's new Council Rules. Sounds fair to us.
Ultimately, when a vote was taken on the new combined budget, the result was 4/4 with (here comes a big surprise) the Supervisor breaking the tie in favor of his budget. Supervisor Dan Davis, Councilman Bob Call, Councilman Cauldwell Pinckney, Councilman Steve Davis, and Councilman Jack Schurlknight all voted in favor of this combined budget after hearing Mr. Terry Hardesty read the SC Statute forbidding the commingling of W&S's revenues with those of BC government. To date, these four members of Council who support the Supervisor have faithfully marched like lemmings to the beat of the Supervisor's drum. Unfortunately for these faithful supporters, they may just have unwittingly marched off the proverbial cliff with this latest vote. If the 2008 Resolution didn't exist, it would be easier for a judge to believe the Supervisor's story about only wanting simplification of the Budget Ordinance. His statement about having no intention of commingling funds might be believable if he had not already taken funds from the W&S fund balance and put them into the general fund of BC government. But the 2008 Ordinance brings all of his assertions into question.
Now, the die is cast. The deed is done. Mr. Davis' administration has no choice but to face the possible consequences of his actions. Could this be the first big loss for the Supervisor?
As with most things political, GE&P has more questions than answers:
Does anyone think that BC government's use of BCW&SA's fund balance as a revenue source is illegal?
Is this very thing the goal of this administration?
Has this plan been in the works since the W&S rates were raised years ago?
Was the combined W&S/BC government budget Ordinance the first step toward combining the revenue of both entities?
Does this administration think it will cause less controversy to gain revenue by this means as opposed to flat out raising taxes?
If you have the answers to any of these questions or would like someone to try to answer them, please call your member of the BC delegation. GE&P would very much like some answers.