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Capital projects: Council puts 1-cent sales tax to a vote

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The question of a 1-cent sales tax to help pay for capital projects in Georgetown County is a step closer to being posed to voters.

County Council members unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday to create a six-member commission that will be tasked with coming up with a specific list of projects the sales tax would fund and determining the wording of the referendum that would appear on the November ballot. Both must be approved by council before the referendum is a guarantee.

Council has 90 days to appoint the members of the commission, said Wesley Bryant, the county attorney. Three members of the commission would be chosen by council and three others by municipalities within the county.

There was no discussion of the resolution before the vote — at least not publicly. Council went into executive session to receive legal advice before it voted. Bryant said the session was an opportunity for him to make council aware of basic legalities surrounding the resolution, commission and sales tax funds.

Council was clear to point out that it did not vote for a tax increase, but to give the public another option for funding capital projects. If the sales tax is approved by voters, the county plans to do away with its impact fee, which is imposed on all new development.

Depending on how long the tax is in effect, it could generate an additional $20.3 million to $48.3 million for the county’s capital improvement plan.

While it’s the commission that will decide the specifics of how funding is spent, several possibilities have already been named, including dredging of the Georgetown port, road improvements and construction of a Waccamaw Library that would be 10,000 square feet larger than the one planned.

A small group of library patrons gathered in council chambers to show their support for the sales tax.

“There are many who think libraries are obsolete now and this is not the place we should be putting our money, but this is an opportunity to really create a community center on Waccamaw Neck,” said Linda Ketron, a longtime library volunteer.

Original proposals for the library contained space for an auditorium and public meeting rooms. The lone meeting room at the existing library sees heavy use and groups know to book early if they want a shot at it.

The sales tax is “a way of everybody sharing the cost of something that’s really important to our community,” Ketron said.

Jean Cross and Ted Hiley, who together chair the development committee for the new library, also spoke in favor of the tax.

“I believe that if this goes through, the county will benefit in many ways,” Cross said.

Hiley said it would be worthwhile to let the citizens decide how they want to fund capital projects.

Charlie Luquire, a Pawleys Island area resident, urged caution.

“In my view, capital spending is a problem currently and has been for some time,” he said. “During times when employees were living with basically fixed incomes, spending with borrowed money has continued almost full speed.”

Dredging of the port is “currently the hot item,” he added. “However, that should not encourage other capital spending unless it is directed at enhancing the economic aspects of the port and the county.”

He suggested that removing more items from the capital improvement plan would be “a good message as to current priority.” They could be returned to the list when the economy improves.

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