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Sales tax: Panel says borrowing will speed projects

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Larry Baxley of Pleasant Hill, a member of the county’s panel named to decide how proceeds from an additional one-cent sales tax would be spent, wants rural fire stations to be the top priority.

Tracey Gibson of Georgetown said repaving roads will provide more direct benefit to residents.

Thomas Alford of Andrews said his town’s police and fire station is falling down.

Those three projects fall behind dredging Winyah Bay and Murrells Inlet in terms of economic impact, according to discussions the committee held previously.

Members of the Georgetown County Capital Project Sales Tax Commission decided last week to include language in the November referendum that will allow County Council the option of borrowing money and getting all the projects started sooner.

Chairman George Geer III clarified that all six members of the commission — Bill Hills and Jim Jerow represent the Waccamaw Neck — agreed that the additional one-cent-per-dollar sales tax would be collected over four years, yielding $28 million, and be spent on five projects identified by a $15,000 poll conducted by the University of South Carolina’s Institute for Public Service and Policy Research as favorable to voters.

Without giving the county the option of borrowing, the projects would have to be fully funded in order of priority as established by the commission. “If Winyah Bay dredging is No. 1,” County Administrator Sel Hemingway told commission members last week, “we’d have to hand the Corps of Engineers $6 million before we could begin the second project.”

Borrowing the money, Geer said, gives earlier “visible effects” of the tax’s impact.

Baxley said the nine fire substations in the western part of the county and a full Big Dam station would put money in everybody’s pocket the first year. “I’m not just looking at the money,” he said, “fire stations save lives. Dredging saves money. I’m looking at lives ahead of money. What I’d really like to see is borrow the money and get them all going.”

Hemingway said the county could get an interest rate between two and three percent. The cost of building goes up by a similar rate yearly, he said. Once cash flow started, Hemingway said he would be able to minimize the amount borrowed in an effort to get all the projects started.

He said county crews would be used to assemble the metal buildings for the nine fire substations to hold down costs. The buildings themselves would be purchased from the low bidder.

Dredging Winyah Bay and the Georgetown port will be County Council’s top priority, he told committee members. The state has budgeted $15 million over three years for the work, and federal regulations have recently been changed to give small ports a better opportunity to get money from the Harbor Maintenance Fund.

If that federal money is not approved, Hemingway said, the harbor dredging would require other sources of funding or be shelved.

Murrells Inlet dredging will get more costly if it’s delayed, Hemingway said. “It will be a problem if we wait four years,” he said. If the money is available, the Corps of Engineers could schedule the inlet dredging for late fall of 2015.

Before the committee’s next meeting June 19, members plan to review a list of roads that need repaving and be prepared to discuss how the $8.7 million anticipated from the one-cent tax would be spread around the county.

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