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Sales tax: Council move on impact fee seen as ‘leverage’ for referendum

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Council Member Bob Anderson objected to a resolution this week that would link eliminating the county’s impact fees to approval of a 1-cent sales tax referendum.

Proceeds from the impact fee and projected funds from the additional penny sales tax go toward capital improvement projects such as libraries, recreational facilities, fire stations and roads. Top priority for the 1-cent sales tax is dredging the shipping channel for the Port of Georgetown.

Anderson said he was opposed to the referendum that allows county voters to decide on the additional 1-cent sales tax, and a promise to eliminate impact fees would provide what he called leverage for the referendum.

“It’s going to be a positive for people to look and say, ‘Yes, I’ll vote for the sales tax’ instead of looking at the list of 10 capital improvement project items on it. It will leverage that referendum.”

County Administrator Sel Hemingway wasn’t sure that leverage was the right word to describe a promise to eliminate impact fees if the sales tax is approved.

“You have been asked questions about repealing the impact fee ordinance should this pass,” Hemingway said. “This will demonstrate our willingness to do so.”

Anderson said he wanted to separate the impact fee from the sales tax referendum.

“Is there any way we could amend this thing and say we’re going to sunset the impact fee anyway by such-and-such a date?” he asked. “Does that make any sense?

“From my position, I voted against the referendum. I saw it as an added tax. That’s a done deal. This places leverage on folks to vote for the referendum.”

Council Member Ron Charlton went farther. He offered an amendment to repeal impact fees by Dec. 31.

Hemingway said Charlton’s amendment was illegal because the county has not completed the project list. “If you repeal it without a plan to complete the projects identified in the original CIP [capital improvement plan], you are in violation of state law,” Hemingway said.

Anderson asked if council members couldn’t defer talk about impact fees and caucus instead.

Chairman Johnny Morant said the county was not going to be subject to both impact fees and an additional penny sales tax. “This sends a message to the public that clearly the intent of the council is to cancel the impact fee if the referendum passes,” he said.

Council Member Jerry Oakley said an amendment to cancel impact fees would leave the county running a budget deficit, and it can’t do that. And to caucus violates the state Freedom of Information Act, and it can’t do that either.

Council members voted to approve the resolution to eliminate the county’s impact fees, subject to the voters approving an additional 1-cent sales tax.

Anderson ended up voting for the resolution, but Charlton was the lone dissenter in the 4-1 vote.

Council will give first reading to an ordinance to make the change in October. It will require three readings to take effect.

In other developments, groups favoring and opposing the sales tax have been formed in the county.

Charlie Luquire of the Pawleys Island area is chairman of the Stop The Tax Hike Committee.

“No new tax in these economically uncertain times,” he said in a news release. “We do not know what the next few years will hold for Georgetown County or our country. Now is not the time to vote for a new tax.

“The proposed increase in sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent is really a $40 million tax increase over eight years; it is a new tax of at least $2,000 on a family of four over the eight years. It is important that we stand against any tax increase in these tough economic times for so many Georgetown County residents and visitors.”

Pennies for Progress is encouraging residents to vote in favor of a Capital Projects Sales Tax. The group says the annual cost to a family of four with $50,000 income will be $128.39. Over eight years that would amount to $1,027.12. The sales tax rate in Georgetown County would go from 6 to 7 percent, a flier for the group says, adding that about 30 percent of the tax will be paid by non-residents. Georgetown County, the group’s literature says, is one of six counties in the state without an additional sales tax.

The group said money raised will be used to dredge the Port of Georgetown, create a spoils site for Murrells Inlet dredging, build new libraries, a new fire station and sub-stations, pave roads, build and enhance recreational facilities and finance other road improvements.

“These projects will create much needed jobs, directly and indirectly for Georgetown County and enhance our quality of life,” a flier for Pennies for Progress said.

“It’s in its infancy,” said Pennies for Progress organizer Bill Crowther of the Alliance for Economic Development, “but we are moving as fast as we can.”

Crowther said he hopes to have brochures explaining the benefits of the capital improvement projects ready by next week with yard signs and posters to follow soon. Volunteers will be attending high school sporting events across the county in the coming weeks to promote the additional 1-cent sales tax, and Crowther says volunteers will be attending community meetings.

“The response has been very positive,” he said. “Most people, once they understand it, see that it’s an extremely good thing for Georgetown County economic development.”

Crowther said the major impact from the sales tax revenues will be dredging of the shipping channel in Winyah Bay leading to the port of Georgetown. “The $5.5 million gets us a depth of 25 feet — it’s 19 feet deep in some places now,” he said. “That is the first step in getting more tonnage at the port and getting federal and state funds to deepen the channel further.”

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