By Barry Waldman
Now entering its 50th year, the state’s third largest city with 111,000 residents, North Charleston is running a tight fiscal ship and focusing on growth, said Keith Summey said, who has served as mayor for 27 of those years.
With a nearly 10 percent spike in real estate taxes offsetting a 2% dip in retail tax collections, the city remains in good financial shape, Summey said in his State of the City message, which was released with video B-roll and captions.
The state’s leader in retail sales for the past three decades with $7.9 billion, North Charleston will pay for a host of new recreation facilities “by running the city like a business and living within our means,” Summey said.
On tap are new ball fields, aquatic centers and community centers spread across the city to accommodate its growing population. Among them are a Miracle League field, an inclusive playground for children of all physical abilities, a new aquatic center and gym in Park Circle and two new senior centers – one on the old tank farm off Carner Avenue and the other near the North Charleston aquatic center on Patriots Boulevard. That doubles the number of senior centers, Summey said, and provides accessibility to all seniors in the city, wherever they live.
Last year saw the return of many city events, like the city’s cultural arts festival, and Summey said that would continue in 2022 with the revival of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and festival. Additionally, Summey teased a 50th anniversary celebration coming in June.
Much of Summey’s State of the City focused on planned infrastructure improvements that won’t be complete in 2022 and are beyond the scope of the city itself. They include the extension of Palmetto Parkway to Aviation Avenue, the widening of Dorchester Road, a new pedestrian and cycling bridge across the Ashley River and the establishment of a Lowcountry Rapid Transit bus system through the length of the city.
“Over the next 10 years, North Charleston will see a lot of orange cones, but the result will be improved infrastructure and mobility,” the mayor said. “However, infrastructure improvements are neither fast nor cheap.”
With FBI data showing reports of violent crime rising 20.2% from 2019 to 2020 in North Charleston, Summey expressed appreciation for law enforcement in the city. The FBI also reported that property crime in the city was down 13.7% for the same year.
Summey also acknowledged the findings of a recently completed racial audit and promised to act on its key findings. The audit found disparities in arrests, traffic stops, field interviews and use of force based on race.
“The top priority of the men and women of our police department is to end victimization in the city,” he said. “Changes take time to implement, but I am confident that Chief Burgess has the department on the right track.”
A small city reeling from the former Charleston Naval Base closure when Summey took office, North Charleston’s population is projected to jump another 45% by 2040, sprawling further into all three local counties. The mayor’s State of the City message demonstrated a community grappling with explosive growth that’s likely to continue.