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Groups differ over timing of improvements

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The proposed 1-cent sales tax would provide funding for a variety of capital improvement projects around the county, but nothing on the list of infrastructure spreads the funding like fire stations and paved roads.

Third on the priority list of projects to be funded with the estimated $40 million to be collected over eight years is $5.2 million for 31 countywide road paving projects.

Bill Crowther, chairman of Pennies for Progress, a group promoting passage of the sales tax referendum next Tuesday, says the road paving component helped the committee selecting the projects to be funded by the referendum meet the requirement that all areas of a county benefit.

“Thirty-one dirt roads were selected from various parts of the county,” Crowther said. “That was part of the requirements by law that the projects be spread out through the county. Members of the committee from various sections of the county suggested these dirt roads for paving.”

There are two specific road projects on the priority list. No. 4 is $1 million in improvements to Black River Road. Once Georgetown Memorial Hospital decided against building a new facility west of Georgetown, committee members realized that the two-lane Black River Road would not be adequate for hospital traffic in the future. In addition, the road is a busy cut-through between Church and Fraser streets for local traffic now. The $1 million in funding would provide a starting point on work to build turning lanes for the hospital or widen the road.

Parkersville Road improvements at Pawleys Island is slated for $1.31 million. More traffic is expected once a new regional recreational center is completed in the neighborhood next year.

The fire stations, Crowther says, are a response to changing insurance rules that state that houses must be within 5 road miles of a fire station or substation rather than within a 5-mile radius.

One county resident, he said, saw his annual fire insurance premium go from $1,000 to $3,000.

“One by one, we are seeing companies change their methods of calculating premiums,” Crowther said. “With the substations in the proposal, we are creating a strategy to offset the largest number of residences falling outside the five-mile limit. Thankfully, substations meet that requirement. This is a big item for a number of Georgetown County residents.”

Spending $750,000 on Big Dam Fire Station ranks No. 6 on the project priority list and $750,000 for countywide rural fire substations is No. 7, ahead of libraries and recreation.

Charlie Luquire, chairman of Stop the Tax Hike committee, says his group opposes neither fire stations nor paved roads, just the tax.

“Stop the Tax Hike’s basic position is that this is not the time for a $40 million tax increase,” Luquire said.

“We have a Capital Improvement Plan with continuing sources of money to pay for CIP projects. The CIP started with sources of money identified that would pay for the projects; the sources did not include a sales tax. At the start, the money would come from new people and property and escalating value of the tax base, providing increasing revenue streams. The new people and property did not show, so the long-termers are now being asked to put up $40 million more tax to cover the shortfalls to move the CIP along on the schedule developed about 2006.”

Roads, Luquire said, have been in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan from the beginning, funded by a $30-per-vehicle road user fee and S.C. Department of Transportation C funds from gasoline tax revenue. Those produce about $3 million a year, and an average of 9.35 miles of dirt roads — out of about 250 miles in the county — are paved yearly.

“Paving will be done with or without the sales tax,” Luquire said. “We’re not opposed to paving roads. Paving roads is good. We’ve got a plan to do that. Let’s stay with the existing plan.”

As for the fire stations, Luquire says County Council should decide if there is a need for the expansion to provide property protection and insurance premium savings. If so, it should put them on its Capital Improvement Plan and adjust priorities.

He said the county’s two fire districts have their own millage — it’s within the county millage — and includes funding for capital purchases such as trucks and buildings.

“We’re not opposed if there’s good justification for them,” said Luquire, a new member of the Midway Fire Department board. “We have a structure to deal with fire stations. The CIP is the fallback.”

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