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Sales tax: County's plan for extra penny has friends at the library

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A 1-cent sales tax would be a “very logical” way to pay, at least in part, for a new Waccamaw Library, said Dwight McInvaill, Georgetown County library director.

It’s estimated that about 25 percent of revenue from the tax would be paid by visitors.

“They use our libraries,” McInvaill said. “The Waccamaw library especially has a lot of visitors.”

People stop by while they’re on vacation to use the computers and access the Internet, but also to check out materials.

“And they use our roads and our recreation centers,” McInvaill said. So why shouldn’t they contribute to paying for those things, he asked library board members last weekend during a board retreat. “If you go to other counties, you’re going to be paying it.”

McInvaill used the retreat as an opportunity to give the board an overview of the proposed tax, which is set to appear as a referendum before voters in the November general election, and asked that they give it their public support.

He showed a map of the state that displayed the tax rate of each county, along with what kind of local option taxes they charge. Of 46 counties, Georgetown is one of only six that don’t have a local option tax, meaning it charges only the 6 percent base rate, and it’s the only county on the coast to do so. The others are all in the Upstate.

“I think people are not aware of that important map. They need to see it and think deeply about it.”

Jean Cross said it’s interesting that a lot of the people who own property in Georgetown County also have homes in the Upstate.

The highest tax rate belongs to the city of Myrtle Beach (9 percent). Horry County’s tax rate is 8 percent and Charleston County’s is 8.5 percent.

When the tax was presented to County Council in February as an option for helping to fund capital projects, library projects included a new Waccamaw Library, a new Georgetown Library and a Sampit Library. There currently is no library in Sampit. As for the headquarters library in Georgetown, “I think you share with me an amazement of so much with a space so small,” McInvaill said. The county’s library system is on par with much larger and better funded libraries around the nation, he said.

Funds that the penny sales tax would add to the county’s capital improvement plan would allow the new Waccamaw Library to be built according to original specifications — 27,000 square feet, the minimum recommended size for the population. Without the tax, it will be about 17,000 square feet, meaning its amenities will have to be scaled back significantly. Library officials and the Friends of the Waccamaw Library want the new facility to double as a community center, offering a large auditorium and public meeting space, as well as adequate space for computers and programs for children and teens, as well as adults.

“The idea is it will be a place where immediately people begin to feel at home,” McInvaill said. “We want people to maybe not feel like they can take their shoes off and prop their feet up, but almost that comfortable.”

The space will also be a more comfortable place for staff, he added. “I’m sure our branch manager will be pleased to have more than a closet for an office.”

Plans for the new building, which are still in the early stages, were also discussed. Trees on the site will be preserved and the facility will have a Lowcountry look and feel.

“It will be designed in a way that has worked in this environment for centuries,” he said describing overhangs and pitched roofs. Finalizing plans, as well as fundraising activities are on hold until it is known for certain if the library will be included on the project list for funds from the capital tax and if the tax will be voted into place, but the library is still scheduled to open in December 2014.

A committee will come up with the list of projects the tax would be used for, but McInvaill said he expects libraries will make the list. For that reason, “I’m hoping that we get the local option sales tax,” McInvaill said.

Gesturing back to the tax map, he said people “need to see it and think deeply about it.”

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