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Sales tax: Council adopts ballot that will allow borrowing

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County voters will be asked again this November if they favor an additional 1-cent sales tax to fund a pared list of infrastructure work over a shorter time period.

Georgetown County Council approved final reading of a measure this week to put a referendum on the November ballot to collect a tax for four years that would fund $28 million in projects. County voters defeated a proposal to add a one percent sales tax in 2012 that would have collected nearly $40 million over eight years. The county did a survey of likely voters to test how another referendum might fare and what projects would win approval. A six-person committee prioritized this year’s list to include: Georgetown port dredging, $6 million; Murrells Inlet dredging and disposal site preparation, $10.3 million; Andrews fire and police station, $1.5 million; county fire stations, $1.5 million; and road resurfacing, $8.7 million.

The ballot will include language that allows County Council to borrow money and begin the work sooner to take advantage of lower costs or to show progress across the county.

“The items that have been identified by County Council and the tax commission are warranted and needed for Georgetown County to grow,” said Heritage Plantation resident Jim Jerow, a member of the commission that prioritized the projects and submitted them to County Council. “These are infrastructure improvements for the whole county and will create jobs and improve lifestyles for everybody. It’s time that we help ourselves by passing this 1-cent sales tax.”

Most opponents of the 2012 tax have been silent this time around. Randy Hollister, county Republican Party chairman, said he has not heard of any organized opposition. The county GOP, he said, deferred any discussion of the tax until it was put on the ballot and exact wording was available. The group is scheduled to meet Sept. 2. “I am sure,” Hollister said, “there will be some individuals opposed and some supportive in that body. I don’t know where they might shake out or if the party will take a position on one side or the other.”

Linwood Altman, president of the Pawleys Island Civic Association, said he is “most likely” going to oppose the additional sales tax that would see vacation home renters paying a total of 11 percent. He said the civic association will discuss the tax at its September meeting.

If approved, the 1-cent capital project sales tax would go into effect next May 1 and end April 30, 2019. The tax could not be extended without another referendum.

Dredging on Winyah Bay would allow the Georgetown port to accommodate larger ships and increase tonnage. The county is quoting economist Donald Schunk’s 2010 report that each annual increase of 500,000 tons would create 42 new jobs and $1.3 million annually in new local household income. Almost 80 percent of potential voters surveyed favored port dredging after getting more information.

The tax would also fund dredging at Murrells Inlet. While only 52 percent of people surveyed said they favored Murrells Inlet dredging, sales tax committee members were convinced that it was a wise investment to protect property values — and tax revenues — in addition to maintaining navigation. County administrator Sel Hemingway said the inlet should have been dredged several years ago. One additional benefit of dredging the inlet will be renourishment of Garden City Beach with sand removed near the jetties.

The sales tax would also generate $3 million for fire and rescue service in the county. Ten fire stations would be constructed in western Georgetown County, assuring many residents of lower fire insurance rates by being within five miles of a station. Sales tax revenue would be used to construct a new fire station in the Big Dam community, as well as nine fire substations throughout the county. Additionally, a portion of funds would be used to construct a new building to house police and fire operations in Andrews.

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