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Sales tax: County capital plan follows poll data

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The six-person committee selected to determine how proceeds from an additional penny-per-dollar sales tax should be spent is using the results of a survey commissioned by Georgetown County for guidance.

The Institute for Public Service and Policy Research at the University of South Carolina conducted a telephone survey of 432 registered voters in March to determine levels of support for a one-cent capital projects sales tax increase.

Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway said the survey identified $28 million in “core services” that voters would likely approve in a November referendum. It includes Winyah Bay dredging, $6 million; Murrells Inlet dredging and disposal site preparation, $10.3 million; county fire stations, $1.5 million, road resurfacing, $8.7 million; and an Andrews fire-police complex, $1.5 million.

The ballot will indicate the order of priority for the projects and say whether the county can use the funds to pay interest should it borrow money to complete projects sooner. The sales tax would generate about $7 million per year, according to state revenue estimates, and end after four years. County Council members concluded that fewer projects and a shorter window for the tax would improve its chances of passage. Two years ago, the taxation period was for eight years.

“County Council did a good job of brainstorming to come up with the projects,” said committee member Jim Jerow. “We need that port. Period. We need roads, fire substations to help people within a community. What else is out there?

Was there anything else that should be considered?”

Hemingway said the discussion among County Council members was limited to core services. “They identified the projects and tested them with the survey,” he said.

Jerow wanted to identify a project that would show results in the first year. “This is a tax,” he said, “but my position is it’s an investment. Our county is at a turning point for jobs of the future. Young people need jobs. This county needs jobs. We need a tax base. We’ll lose our tax base if we don’t do something like the Murrells Inlet dredging. We’re going to add value to homes with something like the fire stations.”

The survey indicates there is support for the proposals. Here are the findings:

• Winyah Bay dredging: 68.6 percent in favor, 23.6 percent opposed and 7.8 percent didn’t know. After being presented additional information, 79.8 percent favored the project, 15.5 percent opposed the project, and 4.6 percent did not know.

• Murrells Inlet dredging: 51 percent opposed, 40.3 percent in favor and 8.7 percent did not know. After being presented additional information, 51.7 percent favored the project, 42.5 percent were opposed, and 5.8 percent responded that they did not know.

• Fire stations: 78.3 percent in favor, 16.0 percent opposed and 5.8 percent did not know. After being presented additional information, 79.6 percent favored the project, 15.3 percent were opposed and 5.1 percent did not yet know whether or not they support this project.

• Road resurfacing: 82.7 percent in favor, 15.1 percent opposed and 2.2 percent did not know. This is the only project where the percentage of support declined after respondents were provided more information. The level of support for road resurfacing declined to 78.1 percent. The percentage of those opposed increased to 19.8 percent, and 2.1 percent of respondents indicated that they were still undecided.

• Andrews fire-police station: 54.2 percent in favor, 39.9 percent opposed, 6 percent did not know. After being provided additional information, 71.2 percent favored the project, 25.8 percent opposed it, and 3.1 percent responded that they did not know.

After being asked about each project and being provided additional information, respondents were asked whether they supported or opposed the sales tax increase. Three-quarters — 73.2 percent — of those responding to the survey indicated they were for the increase and an additional 2.3 percent indicated that they were leaning toward supporting it. Of the remaining respondents, 17.7 percent were against the tax, 4.2 percent were leaning against it, and 2.6 percent did not know.

The survey identified the levels of support for the sales tax by demographic characteristics

Men had stronger feelings about the tax. They were slightly more likely than women to support the tax: 75 to 71.6 percent. They were also more likely to be against it: 20.1 to 15.1 percent. Among female respondents, 5.0 percent said they didn’t know how they felt while none of the male respondents responded that they did not know.

Respondents with an income of less than $50,000 were more likely to support increasing the sales tax: 87.2 percent compared to 68.9 percent for those with an income of $50,000 or more. Those with an income of $50,000 or more were more likely to oppose passage of the tax, although a majority of this higher income group still supported its passage. When those who indicated that they were leaning against the tax are combined with those who were against, 25 percent of respondents with an income of $50,000 or more indicated that they would not vote for the tax increase.

Among age groups, respondents 65 and younger were more likely to support the tax increase than those 65 and older by a margin of 76.7 to 68.9 percent. When those who lean against increasing the sales tax are combined with those who are against the increase, by a margin of 24.3 to 19.1 percent, respondent 65 and older are more likely not to support the increase.

Differences in support can also be seen among racial groups. Nearly nine in 10 African Americans, 87.7 percent, are either for or are leaning toward supporting the increase. This compares to 71.3 percent of white respondents.

A majority of respondents in each of four geographic areas of the county also indicated their support. The level of support was highest within the city of Georgetown with 84.6 percent indicating they would vote to increase the sales tax. Seven in ten respondents in each of the remaining areas of the county also indicated support for the tax increase: western/rural 73 percent; Andrews 71.4 percent; and Waccamaw Neck 70.7 percent.

Respondents who indicated that they were either against or leaning against increasing the sales tax were asked if they would vote in favor of the tax increase if some of the projects were excluded. Respondents could identify up to three projects that should be eliminated. Of these, 52.8 percent indicated that they would vote against the sales tax no matter what projects were removed. The most frequently mentioned project which, if removed, led respondents to be more likely to vote in favor of the sales tax increase was dredging of Murrells Inlet. While the number of respondents is not sufficient to reach any statistically significant conclusion, the fact that dredging Murrells Inlet was the most frequently mentioned project that should be eliminated is consistent with it being the only project not to receive majority support, the survey said.

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