Waccamaw Neck residents packed the community room of the Waccamaw Library on Monday night to hear a presentation on a proposed one-cent sales tax.
On hand to answer questions were: County Administrator Sel Hemingway, County Council Members Jerry Oakley, Ron Charlton and Austin Beard, and Dan Stacy, who chaired the commission that came up with the $40 million project list and the wording for the referendum.
Stacy said the commission looked at every project in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and immediately discarded things that were already being built, and anything that didn’t have operational and maintenence funding available.
Items such as multi-purpose fields, which don’t need to be staffed and are inexpensive to maintain, were chosen over swimming pools, which cost a lot to maintain and staff,
The CIP has been around since 2000, and a few people at Monday’s meeting wondered why a new revenue stream was needed to fund its projects.
Hemingway said the sales tax proposal was not initiated because CIP funding had dried up.
“That plan is alive and well,” he added.
Oakley called the one-cent tax proposal “an alternative financing device.”
Included in the proposal the commission sent to County Council is $7.3 million for dredging Winyah Bay and a spoils site for dredging in Murrells Inlet; $7.47 million for road improvements; $12.2 million for parks and recreation; and $11.31 million for libraries.
Hemingway said discussion of one-cent sales tax began six or seven months ago as a way to raise money to pay for dredging, but it was only last week that the state Legislature approved a bill that allowed the money to be spent for dredging.
He said there were also concerns about how long it was taking to complete road paving projects, and how much people in the western part of the county were paying for insurance because of the scarcity of fire stations.
“I know the fire stations may not be as big an issue [on Waccamaw Neck], but to the people I represent it’s a huge issue,” Beard said. “Those are the people who have seen their homeowners’ insurance go up $1,000.”
“If you build these things it might be incentive for people to live in the western part of the county and then more property taxes would come from that area,” Stacy said.
Both Hemingway and Oakley expressed concern about Monday’s meeting being “premature” because County Council has not even seen the proposal yet, although first reading of the ordinance was given by title only.
“Council has not acted at all on the proposal,” Oakley said. “All Council has done to this point is authorize a commission to develop a proposed ballot proposition. When the proposal is presented to Council for consideration, Council can put it to the voters in November, or let it die.”
Stacy will submit the commission’s final draft to Council on July 10 with a recommendation that the proposal be “revenue neutral.”
Oakley’s would like that also, but is not sure if that is possible.
“Until the list is finalized, a determination of the extent to which the overall proposal is ‘revenue neutral’ could not be done with any acceptable level of accuracy,” Oakley said.
If the proposal moves forward, county officials plan to hold more public meetings in September and October.
“For people to make an informed decision it’s got to be a good educational process,” Beard said. “I think [Monday’s] meeting was a good barometer of questions that need to be answered.”
If the referendum is approved in November, the additional one cent would be charged only on things that are already taxed at 6 percent.
The new tax would begin May 1 and continue for eght years. By state law, the county would have to hold another referendum to extend the one-cent tax.
Stacy estimated that 27 percent of the revenue would come from visitors, and people who don’t live in the county, but work or shop here.
By Chris Sokoloski
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