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THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES

Sales tax: Rural roads top priority list

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Projects that will affect the most people in the most regions of the county are at the top of a priority list of work Georgetown County wants to fund with revenue from a proposed 1-cent capital projects sales tax.

Those include paving of all roads on the county’s rural paving list, which the county sales tax commission ranked at No. 1 last week when it completed a draft of the priority list.

Improvements to Black River Road, which runs in front of Georgetown Memorial Hospital, got the No. 2 slot, while work to Parkersville Road is No. 3.

Construction of a fire station in the Big Dam community and several fire substations at undetermined locations were put at No. 4, and libraries followed. The Waccamaw Library tops those projects, followed by Sampit and then Georgetown.

The 20-item, $40 million list is still subject to change and two important projects submitted for the commission’s consideration still have question marks beside them. The county is waiting to find out if legislation will pass allowing capital project sales tax revenue to fund dredging.

The matter is languishing in the state House, reported Dan Stacy, the commission chairman.

“It doesn’t look to me right now like it’s being championed hard by anyone at this time,” he said. Everyone has their focus set on the budget, he added.

If the legislation isn’t passed by the time the session ends in June, dredging won’t make the list, but for now the commission is leaving it as a placeholder and keeping fingers crossed it will be able to stay.

The list is only half the commission’s job. It is also tasked with formulating the referendum question that will appear on the November ballot, asking voters if they support a capital projects sales tax and explaining what the revenue would be used for.

But a draft of the referendum question is also done. Stacy, an attorney, submitted it last week, asking the other commission members and county officials to look it over.

Both items will be reviewed again when the commission next meets. Two of the six-member group — Donald Godwin and Walletta Joye Thornton — weren’t in attendance last week, so Stacy wants them to have a chance to weigh in.

Stacy said he based the draft on a referendum used in Horry County. He wanted to make sure the projects list was kept short and sweet so voters could easily see what the funds would be used for.

“That’s the eye-catching thing to me,” agreed commission member Kyle Daniel.

The commission seemed to put the first half of the list together with relative ease, working off individual priority lists the members e-mailed to Stacy.

“There was a little bit of difference in the lists, but nothing drastic,” he said.

Some people, for example, put the paving projects in different order, but all put them in the top three. Commission member George Geer Jr. initially put the library projects above the fire station and substations, but admitted he’s biased. He’s a media specialist at Andrews High School.

The group eventually determined the fire substations might have more impact, swaying more people to vote for the sales tax. 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 an economic advantage for residents whose rates would drop due to the construction.

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.

At No. 8 after the libraries, the commission placed an Andrews recreation center, but didn’t include a pool. Behind it was a Choppee recreation center, a multi-purpose field at Eight Oaks Park outside Georgetown, bikeways on the Waccamaw Neck and a running track.

“We might need to have some more conversation about the pool thing. I know in the Andrews area, the pool is a big deal,” Geer said.

However, the high cost of operation and maintenance proved a disincentive for the commission. Wesley Bryant, the county attorney, said he has suggested that the county not have any pools because of the liability issues involved.

Community park enhancements, including picnic shelters, playground equipment, basketball courts and tennis courts were ranked at No. 13. A tee ball/coach pitch facility came in at No. 14, then a multi-purpose field at Olive Park, followed by basketball courts on the Waccamaw Neck.

Tennis courts at Eight Oaks and swimming pools for Andrews, Eight Oaks and Parkersville Park finished off the list.

Dog parks were dropped from the list.

With the first draft of the list complete, Daniel said he has talked to people in the western part of the county where he lives and gotten positive feedback about the sales tax and associated projects.

“I was thinking it might be a tough sale, but I’ve gotten some good response,” he told the rest of the group.

Stacy said he received mixed reactions. Some think it’s a great idea and others think it’s terrible, “no matter how you spend it,” he said. “It always comes back to what are they taking away.”

County Council members have talked about getting rid of the county’s impact fee on new development if the sales tax passes, but that’s not a decision for the commission. However, the group might include something along those lines in its recommendation to council.

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