Some Charleston residents are questioning whether Mayor Joe Riley is showing a knee-jerk reaction to school violence with his emergency, $3.9 million tax-hike proposal to bring police coverage to all the city’s elementary schools.
One of those residents was Mick Norton, who said the proposed hike showed the administration is allowing extreme examples, such as the Connecticut school shootings, to suddenly “drive general policy.”
Others questioned whether the city is piling on its wish list, taking advantage of a bad situation by pushing for more police and fire stations weeks after the balanced 2013 city budget was passed.
“We just had the state-of-the-city (address), and the mayor said, ‘Everything’s fine,’ ” one man said Thursday.
The comments came during an informal meeting called by City Councilman Mike Seekings on Riley’s proposed tax increase. It drew about 30 people.
The tax hike would go to hire 19 new police officers to patrol 35 public, private and parochial elementary schools around the city. Additionally, the increase would pay for eight more officers in the King and Market streets entertainment districts, and for two new fire stations, on Daniel Island and in West Ashley.
The increase would add $40 in property taxes annually on a house valued at $250,000. Other forms of property taxes would increase as well, including for cars and vehicles, officials said.
Residents at the forum raised various issues about the package, questioning everything from the need for the city to go it alone on school protection, to suddenly declaring a demand for fire stations and late-night crowd controlling police just five weeks into the new year.
“I don’t know what a month has done to make it that we need them now,” said one man, who declined to identify himself.
Some also questioned whether Riley’s plan should be tabled until a more comprehensive and coordinated effort can be drafted that includes input from the school district and other local governments and municipalities in the county.
Not all those who attended were against the package. One downtown businessman said more police on the streets would go a long way toward protecting the tourism image the city depends on.
“All we need is one bad incident to go national and we can kiss the baby goodbye,” said Randall Goldman of Patrick Properties hospitality group.
Riley unveiled his proposal this week, saying it was aimed at thwarting gun attacks like the lone gunman who killed more than two dozen children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Three City Council members attended Thursday’s meeting: Seekings, Aubry Alexander and Bill Moody. All said they were reluctant or had reservations about Riley’s plan. First reading and debate is scheduled for Tuesday.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.