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Sales tax: Panel members question library funding

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Dwight McInvaill, Georgetown County library director, will try today to convince a panel that new libraries are a worthwhile use of revenue from a proposed 1-cent capital project sales tax.

Members of a sales tax commission appointed last month made their first pass last week through a list of projects submitted for their consideration. The six-member group will have to decide how funds from the tax will be spent before they draft the referendum question that will appear before voters in November, when the public will decide whether to approve the tax.

When the group reached library projects on the list, including construction of a new Waccamaw Library and libraries in Georgetown and Sampit, they said they needed more information.

“Who goes to libraries now?” asked commission member, Donald Godwin of Heritage Plantation. “Everybody’s got iPhones and iPads now.”

He’s not the only member of the commission who questions the value of libraries in today’s age of technology. But libraries also have at least one proponent in the group.

“I’m biased,” admitted George Geer Jr., a media specialist at Andrews High School. But he’s a regular visitor to the county library system’s main branch in Georgetown and he has seen firsthand that libraries continue to be relevant.

“I’ve been going to that library my entire life and I’ve never seen it busier than it is now,” Geer said. Not only are the computer services offered at the facility valuable for the entire community, “I think it’s a really important place for the youth of the community.”

The library is “overrun” with young people on days when school isn’t in session, he added.

McInvaill and the Georgetown County Library system have a reputation for developing programs that utilize new technology and offer motivation for children and teens to read. Video gaming programs were introduced several years ago and branches added Kindle e-readers to their inventory for circulation just last year.

“There’s no question the nature of the service has changed,” said County Administrator Sel Hemingway. He recommended the group invite McInvaill to their next meeting to talk about the future of libraries.

McInvaill gave a similar presentation to County Council last year, prompting Council Member Bob Anderson to tell him he missed his calling in marketing. Like Godwin, Anderson has questioned the place libraries have in today’s society.

The library projects together account for $23 million of the total $63.3 million in projects proposed on the list. Of that, $6 million is proposed for a new Waccamaw Library. The project is presently budgeted for $3.5 million in the county’s capital improvement plan.

The additional $2.5 million would restore plans for the library to their original specs, bringing the size back up from 17,000 square feet to 27,000 square feet — the minimum recommended size for the population on Waccamaw Neck. It would also restore amenities, such as public meeting rooms, an auditorium and adequate space for programs for children and teens.

Also proposed are $2 million to give the Sampit area a library and $15 million for a new Georgetown library.

The sales tax committee needs to cut the project list to $40 million. It eliminated just under $10 million in projects from the list last week.

Trails and camping amenities, skateboard facilities and splash pads were quickly crossed off the list. An $8 million expansion of the county jail was also removed, because funds hadn’t been identified for $1.2 million in operation and maintenance costs for the facility, which can’t come from sales tax revenue.

Projects that garnered immediate approval from the group were those they deemed most likely to impact the most people and drum up support for a sales tax. Completing projects on the county’s rural road paving list at a cost of about $5.7 million was the first item to get approval.

When it came to spending $300,000 on building four new fire department substations, they suggested that’s an area where they might want to consider spending more.

In recent years, home insurance carriers have doubled and tripled premiums for homeowners who don’t live within five miles of a fire station or substation, so building new substations would have a huge economic advantage for residents who don’t live that close to stations.

“People can do that math real quick,” Hemingway said.

The county would have to study locations for the substations to determine where they could be placed to maximize the number of people positively impacted.

The committee also seemed supportive of dredging projects proposed for Winyah Bay and Murrells Inlet, but opted not to make any decision on those until legislative action that would make dredging an allowable use for capital projects sales tax revenue moves forward.

Other items, including community pools, recreation centers, a running track and a dog park were pushed aside for consideration after the library issue has been decided.

The committee meeting today starts at 5 p.m. in the county administrative building across from the courthouse on Prince Street.

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