Editorial: County Council should give serious consideration to capital projects sales tax
Laurens County Council Chairman Joe Wood has assigned a council committee to study a recommendation by Council Member Diane Anderson of Clinton that the county implement a 1-cent sales tax to fund capital projects. According to state law, the 1-cent capital projects sales and use tax has to be approved by the voters in a referendum held during a general election. If approved by voters, the tax proceeds must be used to fund specific capital projects. It can also be used to pay the debt service on bonds issued for capital projects. Before putting the tax before the voters, county council would have to appoint a 6-member commission – three members appointed by county council and three members appointed by the municipalities based on population. The commission will receive proposals from general purpose and special purpose districts in the county (the county, cities and the like) for funding capital projects with the tax money. The commission then gets estimates on the cost of projects listed in a priority order and formulates the list for the ballot question. The list shows which project will be funded first (how much it will cost), what project will be done second, etc. We would hope if this proposal gets to the point of a commission being appointed, the final list would include projects in the county, as well as projects in the cities. If the list is only for county projects, there is less reason for voters in the municipalities to vote in favor of it. The tax money can be used for highways, roads, streets, bridges, courthouses, administration buildings, civic centers, hospitals, police and fire stations, jails, libraries, technical college facilities, cultural, recreational and historic facilities, water and sewer projects, stormwater facilities and for other things. A new library for Clinton should certainly be included on the list. If the voters approve, the projects may be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis or with debt secured by revenue from the capital project sales tax. Once an item on the list is completed, work on the next item begins -- although, in reality, several projects can be accomplished at one time as long as enough funding is available. The tax can be imposed for only eight years. Voters can then approve extending the tax for another seven years. County officials will understand if voters in School District 56 are a little hesitant about this. We’ve approved a list before of things to be done from a significant tax increase (we’re still paying for it) and some of the things didn’t get done. The way we understand it, the details of a capital projects sales tax are hammered down more than just a general obligation bond issue. The amount of money that will be raised should be easily determined and then it become a matter of getting cost estimates and ranking the projects in priority. So far, the following counties have implemented a 1-cent capital projects sales tax -- York, Newberry, Orangeburg, Aiken, Florence, Allendale, Chester, Lancaster, Sumter, Bamberg, Hampton, Lee, Marion, Colleton and Georgetown. During early discussions, Wood said Greenwood County has used the capital projects sales tax to build a new library, get the county out of debt and build a downtown farmers market (which opens tomorrow). In presenting the plan, Anderson said, “We have no long-range plan for buildings. This is a process and we need to look at it.” Council member David Pitts of Clinton expressed concerns about council increasing the sales tax, which he called regressive. His concern is well-founded, but the list of needs in the county – and in the cities – is growing because the state General Assembly refuses to obey its own law and provide funding to counties and municipalities at required amounts Getting this tax passed in a countywide vote will be a very difficult process, and it will be one that must receive full-throated support from all the councils, both city and county. County council should move quickly to create the commission and get the six members appointed.