The following is an effort to explain the complexities of the controversy behind the half-cent sales tax referendum.
We have been campaigning for the passing of the half-cent sales tax, because we believed it would pay for a Bus Rapid Transit system as well as other transit improvements. However, there are problems with the ordinance. There are also fears that the half-cent will be used as a slush-fund. Each of these issues are explained with links below.
We will not knowingly mislead the public nor campaign for a slush fund. That is why we are focused on transparency and accountability now, and why we have provided this list of resources. The half-cent may still be the best bet we have to get a real, regional, rapid transit system in the Lowcountry. We are in negotiations with politicians now to look at all of our options and try to find a way through this.
Remember, an active citizenship is the only way to keep politicians in check and not only servicing their own needs. Educate yourself about these issues, and reach out to others.
The first and second readings of the half-cent ordinance had a clear list of projects it would pay for, projects chosen after $500k was spent on public meetings to get input. This list included money for a BRT ($256,400,000), mass transit operations ($280,000,000), and mass transit capital improvements ($73,000,000) (2nd Reading, Project 2, Page 2). This list was removed during the third (and final) reading of the ordinance, without most people, including councilmembers, realizing it.
Link to the 2nd Reading of the tax ordinance: http://tinyurl.com/2ndtaxord
Link to the 3rd Reading of the tax ordinance: http://tinyurl.com/3rdtaxord
If you compare the 3rd reading to the 2nd, you can clearly see that the list is removed.
However, during the 3rd reading August 9th, 2016, councilmembers were told by the county attorney that the list was removed only from the ballot question, and not the ordinance.
Link to the August 9th County Council meeting: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/91514160
Start at 43:20 to see the conversation about amending the ordinance using the track changes made by the county attorney.
At 45:00, he makes the following statement, which, by comparing said ordinances above, appears to be entirely inaccurate:
"The actual ordinance that is pending in front of you, if you so choose to approve it, has all the projects that were included at first and second reading. It simply takes them from the sample ballot question and puts all those same projects in the ordinance that you would approve if it passes through reading today so those projects, as stated before, still exist. They are in the ordinance as reflected in your earlier readings. It is simply not reflected on the sample ballot question that's in front of you."
What is going on here? Was this a mistake, or a deliberate attempt to fool people into accepting an ordinance and a referendum with no substance, so money could be used in a more flexible manner? This is one of the many things we are trying to determine.
The problem with the ordinance is worrisome. However, what is particularly alarming is that before the half-cent has even been passed, County Chairman Summey and Mayor Tecklenburg have already tried to leverage the would-be money for a project that was never on the original list of projects to try to resurrect I-526 WITHOUT PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE. Fortunately, there was a source leaked to the press, so the knowledge can be yours.
Sources explaining these concerns:
Post and Courier Article: http://tinyurl.com/h2pn9la
Interview with Dana Beach of the Coastal Conservation League: http://tinyurl.com/danainterview
Original Tecklenburg and Summey letter: http://tinyurl.com/SIBletter
Where we are now
We hope to save this referendum and to continue our campaign. We need transit, and there is no indication that we will get funds elsewhere. However, we cannot do so without some kind of assurance from County Council that money from the half-cent will be spent on projects as originally intended. Fortunately, Councilmember Condon has agreed to be our champion and help us in this matter. Meetings are in the works, and we will provide updates as they happen here and on our Facebook feed.
In the meantime, we are seeking legal and public policy advice. We do have experts on our team, but we have very little time to prepare and November is quickly approaching.
No matter what, Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit will stick around to keep fighting for public transit. One day, Charleston will get the system it needs. Let`s just hope it will be sometime before the oceans rise to swallow her whole.
20 Years of Transportation Planning failure at a cost of 2.5 million dollars is too much for too long to get gridlock.
Last night, after Charleston County Finance Committee's meeting, our organization received alarmed communications from County Council members about new activity regarding the controversial I-526 project, which was not included in the original referendum road package. Councilwoman Collen Condon lamented, "Half cent sales tax is dead. 526 is now somehow funded with no additional funds. Nothing to trust. Nothing to promote. Colleen."
Several major local environmental and planning organizations, whose support is key to the referendum passing, have now indicated their endorsement of the referendum is in doubt.
We invite members of the Alternative Transportation community to call for an end to dysfunctional transportation governance in Charleston County by joining us at a demonstration on Tuesday, September 20th. from 5:30 to 6:15 pm in front of the Lonnie Hamilton County Services Building in North Charleston at 4045 Bridge View Drive, North Charleston, SC. Following the demonstration Citizens are encourage to attend and speak at the Charleston County Council meeting where the pending transportation referendum, I-526 and the status of the bike lane on the Ashley River Bridge are expected to be reconsidered.
A Facebook signup for the demonstration can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/310866369286070/
After our plans for a demonstration were posted, Elliot Summey, Chairman of County Council responded, "Mrs. Condon is over reacting. I love her, but she's upset right now on where things stand with the negotiations with SIB over 526. Those negotiations are far from over. Nothing has been settled... I didn't get a chance to finish talking to her last night. No matter what happens, the 600 million for transit will stay in place and the BRT will be a reality. So, hopefully once she calms down, we will have an opportunity to talk further. I feel we are going to get this sales tax passed.... Stay the course. We are winning on this campaign and are close to having the money for a real transit system in the Lowcountry."
Lowcountry residents who desperately need improved transit have "stayed the course" for 20 years, as the government has spent over 2.5 million dollars on public transit planning, with just a rusting model monorail and a shelf full of dusty BCD COG studies to show for it. It now looks like we will also have a flawed referendum in November, placed on the ballot by elected officials who have been careless in drafting it, and do not possess the needed trust of the public.
Tuesday is the same night local politicians have threatened to reach for the switch on the on-again / off-again Ashley River Bridge bike lane, cancelling the project they promised to approve over a month ago. (The official agenda for next week's meeting will be released some time today, 9/16.) At Tuesday's meeting, proof may be offered that the only thing worse than getting a government decision wrong is dragging the public out to meetings over and over again, for years, until it becomes clear that public participation is nether valued nor desired. We'll stand in solidarity with the Cyclists.
We will be citizens. We will have better transportation. We will go somewhere together, either with this group of elected officials, or with the new officials we replace them with. Following this demonstration, we'll attend the County Council Meeting beginning at 6:30pm and speak during the public comment period.
For more information, contact Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit, Inc. by calling (843) 870-5299 or checking our Transit Complete the Penny website atwww.pennyfortransit.org.
For detailed information and videos on Bus Rapid Transit systems like the one proposed for the Charleston Summerville line, please see http://pennyfortransit.weebly.com/videos.html
On Sunday, a team of transit supporters moved out from Marion Square to talk to over 1000 people on King Street for the Second Sunday Festival. We signed up 100 new people to support the campaign to build Charleston County's Bus Rapid Transit System and improve our other bus routes, as well as saving green space and building more roads.
It's fun and exciting to work downtown, but we need to push the campaign to where the people are who have given up going downtown because they don't want to fight parking and traffic. It took over an hour and half to reach the location of tonight's event on Dorchester road where we met a community of people isolated from both Summerville and Charleston by a road which has become a parking lot. It's time to get moving.
We need your help to reach the 25,000 people we need to talk to this fall to win the referendum vote on Nov. 8.
Today, our friends at the Community Resource Center in Summerville have opened their Flowertown office just off main street behind Berlin G. Myers for an evening of outreach with a cookout. It's located at 116 West 2nd North Street, Summerville, SC
We'll hit the sidewalks of Summerville starting at 2:30 to let people in Flowertown know the campaign has begun. (Part of Summerville is in Charleston County, the rest of the town may vote in it's own referendum in the future to connect to the Charleston County hub of the System). If you get to Summerville later in the afternoon, call William Hamilton at (843) 870-5299 to help.
At 5 pm, we'll have a Pizza Dinner and get to know each other. At 6 pm, we'll fire up the campaign's second phone bank calling into Charleston County where voters can choose to build the core of a regional rapid transit system which Dorchester County can choose to connect to later. A strong showing will demonstrate to Dorchester County Politicians that support for transit exists there. Sign up on Facebook.
On Thursday evening, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the people who keep our current transit system moving, are going to step on the accelerator to speed up to something better. You can ride with them by getting on at the bright blue steelworker's Union Hall at 1545 Meeting Street Road (on the Charleston Neck) on the #10 & #11 CARTA Bus lines. They'll also have snacks before training and hitting the phones. Sign up to call with the Bus Drivers and Transit Workers of the Amalgamated Transit Union on Thursday.
We're going out to events, activities and forums all over the Lowcountry all week and all weekend. We need people to talk to the public, collect signatures and hand out information. If you want to help, contact Field Organizer Nicolas Bell at phone (510) 504-2830 or email email@example.com.
It's a huge effort, but we're having fun. In our pictures, you'll see blue conductor's caps worn by the staff and volunteers who have already contacted 500 people about the referendum. They're conducting the Lowcountry to a better future, just like the people who built the Best Friend of Charleston did 186 years ago. That is history now. Why not help make some history of your own this fall. Help bring the BRT and let's go somewhere together.
With a crowd of 20 attendees, ranging from community members, transit riders, CARTA drivers, and campaign staff, Transit Complete the Penny launched Tuesday morning to take transportation in the Lowcountry into the 21st Century. Pictured above is a new bus stop, designed specially for installation at the Local WORKS co-working space which currently houses our office.
Leaders from the Amalgamated Transit Union, Anthony Garland, and the Charleston Labor Council, April Lott, spoke about the challenges we face in the Lowcountry to overcome cultural and political barriers to winning expansive and effective public transit. Yet there is a need and hunger in the community for such transit solutions, as expressed eloquently by our resident poet, Fran Cardwell, as well as community members and riders.
Children in attendance took on manageable responsibilities as part of their education in civic engagement, while they were treated to the theatrics of unveiling the new bus stop, as well as our traditional activity of designing a transit system for the Lowcountry using model train tracks.
Thank you to all who attended, and we look forward to running our first Phone Bank tomorrow!