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Tax hike town hall generates questions, frustration

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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Some called it a 'knee-jerk' reaction. Others believe it's necessary. The possibility of a City of Charleston property tax increase to the tune of $4 million has people riled up downtown.

Thursday, a town hall meeting was held to allow the public to weigh in on a proposed tax hike, which Mayor Joe Riley says will be used to beef up citizen safety in Charleston.

"Our job as a city is to provide safety," said Councilman Mike Seekings, who moderated the town hall meeting. "We are stewards of your money and we take it seriously."

Seekings like the rest of the crowd at 75 Calhoun Street wanted to get to the bottom about how people felt about the proposal. 

After the meeting it was clear the room was filled mostly with frustration and questions as to why the City needed to raise taxes right now.

"What it amounts to is again taxing people out of their homes," said James Island resident Edwin Taylor. "When is enough, enough?"

One of the many things Seekings detailed to the community was where the $3.9 million will go if the tax increase is passed.

The money will be used for 27 new Charleston police officers. 19 of them will be patrolling in school zones across the city while eight others will be assigned to Market and King Street hot spots downtown.

The money will also fund the design of two new fire stations, the purchase of a ladder truck and hiring additional fire fighters.

"I think they need to look at the current budget and see if the money is in the budget so they can start funding this," said Taylor. "I had no idea the city was strapped."

The city's 2013 operating budget is just over $138 million. According to Seekings, almost 46 percent of that total is already used to fund public safety like police and fire services.

Randall Goldman, who lives downtown, says safety should be taken seriously and is open to hearing more about the tax increase.

"Chief Mullen is doing a great job and these requests that have recently been proposed aren't new requests," said Goldman. "He needs more officers."

But even though Goldman understands the end goal, he wants a better explanation of why the hike is needed now.

"I think it needs more study," he said. "I'd like to have more conversations on this."

The emergency tax hike, which was introduced earlier this week, caught councilman Bill Moody by surprise.

"It just kind of came out of nowhere," said Moody. "I wasn't expecting it."

Moody says he expects a healthy debate in Council chambers Tuesday when the agenda item is put on the table.

To pass the first reading a majority vote is needed. That means only seven council members would have to approve the property tax increase for it to move onto a public hearing.

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