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Sales tax: Panel puts libraries on list for referendum

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

With much of the work done on selecting projects to be funded with revenue from a proposed capital projects sales tax, the commission in charge of the venture is ready to move on.

At a meeting in Georgetown today, they’ll ponder how the question of the 1-cent tax should be posed to voters in a referendum in November. Dan Stacy, an attorney and commission chairman, offered last week to craft a draft referendum for the commission to review.

The group is also to receive information that should allow them to make a decision on the last of three library projects proposed to the group for inclusion on the $40 million projects list.

After a report from Dwight McInvaill, county library director, the group opted last week to leave two of the projects — a new Waccamaw Library and a new Georgetown Library — on the list, though not at their original funding levels. But a library for the Sampit area caused concern because funds for operation and maintenance of the proposed facility haven’t been identified. The commission asked county staff to take a look at the situation and come back with a plan this week before a decision is made.

Construction of the Sampit Library is budgeted at $2 million.

The committee agreed to $2.5 million toward the new $6 million Waccamaw Library. The remaining $3.5 million comes from the existing capital improvement plan. The commission was asked to consider funding the full cost with sales tax revenue.

A $15 million Georgetown Library was proposed for the list, but it was scaled back to $6.5 million.

McInvaill was scheduled to speak to the commission after members expressed concerns that libraries don’t have a useful place in today’s world of the Internet and ever-advancing technology. That’s a common misconception, McInvaill said, launching into a presentation about functions and services of modern libraries, along with figures that show plenty of people still utilize public libraries.

“We help bridge the technological divide between the haves and have-nots,” McInvaill said. “Public libraries are the gathering place, the teaching place and the accurate information gateway for everyone.”

He cited a 2011 report that shows public libraries are a “key resource” for job hunters, and talked about the county library system’s successful foray into circulating e-books, audio books and pre-loaded electronic reading devices, in addition to more traditional media. Readers haven’t given up on printed books, he assured the group.

He projects the library will have circulated more than 175,000 items when the fiscal year closes at the end of June. More than 83,000 computer use sessions will have been logged and more than 528,380 visits worldwide will have been made to the online digital library, where historical photos and news accounts are stored. He also discussed a small business center, created with grant funds, that assists small businesses with their needs, in addition to offering resources for those who want to start a small business.

At the end of the long list of projects and programs for adults, kids and teens, commission member Henry Milton asked if all the county’s library branches are equipped with the same programs. They’re not, because some of the libraries aren’t equipped to accommodate certain programs.

“Carvers Bay is one of our premier libraries and Andrews probably has the premier computer access lab,” McInvaill said. “The real problem has been the Waccamaw branch. There’s no place to do anything there ... Our rural areas are better outfitted than our more populated areas. Otherwise we would aim for consistency of services.”

He talked about limitations for the Neck’s video gaming program and computer labs. Meeting the need for computers at the Georgetown Library is also an issue.

“These frustrations are built into the buildings,” he said. “The Waccamaw Neck right now is just getting shafted.”

The Neck is guaranteed a new library in the capital improvement plan, but if the 1-cent sales tax isn’t approved in November, it will be limited to a 17,000-square-foot facility. The minimum size recommended for the size of the population is 27,000 square feet, which the tax will allow the county to build.

Libraries for Georgetown and Sampit will be put on hold until after 2018 without the revenue the tax will provide.

In addition to the Sampit library, the commission is waiting on more information about legislative action that would allow dredging projects to be funded with captial projects sales tax revenue.

The project list includes $5.5 million for dredging of Winyah Bay and $1.8 million for dredging in Murrells Inlet that will have to come off if the legislation isn’t passed.

If that happens, the group will look at proposing the sales tax for six years instead of the eight, as currently proposed.

Once final decisions are made about the remaining projects still under consideration for the list, the commission will have to prioritize projects, determining in which order they are completed. They started that process informally last week.

Each member was to assign their own priority numbers to the projects and be prepared to compare notes this week. Today’s meeting is at 5 p.m. in the county administration building on Prince Street.

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