Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Charleston homeowners will pay a little more in property taxes in 2021 under a budget passed by City Council Tuesday night that aims to address an $18 million shortfall expected for next year, caused by revenue drops from the coronavirus pandemic.

The budget does not include recommendations from a coalition of social justice groups that urged the reconsideration of money allocated to the Charleston Police Department.

Under the $264 million budget approved by a 8-5 vote Tuesday, the owner of a $300,000 owner-occupied home would increase $24 in 2021. Renter-occupied homes, which are taxed at a slightly higher rate, would see a $36 increase in their 2021 bills.

Tuesday’s vote came after two months of public discussion about how the city would make up for millions in city revenue that dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of his objection to the increases, Councilman Harry Griffin floated the idea of parts of his West Ashley district breaking from the city and forming their own municipality. Griffin’s petition gauging interest had just over 500 signatures on Wednesday morning. Griffin’s proposed cuts included privatizing city-owned properties like the Joseph P. Riley ballpark downtown and Volvo Car Stadium on Daniel Island, both of which have had improvements funded in recent city budgets.

In a Monday op-ed in The Post and Courier, Councilmembers Marie Delcioppo, Mike Seekings and Kevin Shealy voiced their objections to raising taxes, saying that funds could be cut elsewhere.

A group of Charleston social justice advocates that make up the People’s Budget Coalition said it was “disappointed” with the approved budget that dedicates 26% of funding to local law enforcement. Police budgets have come under closer scrutiny across the country this year after repeated, high-profile instances of police violence against Black Americans. Coalition groups spent the past week urging residents to contact members of council ahead of the vote.

“If public safety really means ensuring the safety and well being of all, then we must focus on the needs outlined by the community, like ensuring all people have a roof over their head, comprehensive healthcare, reliable and safe transportation routes, a living wage, and quality public education,” said Shaquille Fontenot of Lowcountry Action Committee in a press release. “Today’s decision by City Council means that Black and other marginalized communities in Charleston will continue to be over-policed and under-resourced.”

Joshua Parks, also of Lowcountry Action Committee, said the budget won’t do anything to fix racial disparities that show Black residents arrested at higher rates than white counterparts. “Charleston City Council provided another blank check to continue their business as usual,” he said.

In the final vote, Delcioppo, Griffin, Seekings, Shealy and Councilman Karl Brady all voted against the budget. Councilmembers Ross Appel, William Dudley Gregorie, Carol Jackson, Robert Mitchell, Jason Sakran and Peter Shahid supported it, along with Mayor John Tecklenburg.

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