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The Lancaster County Capital Project Sales Tax Commission wrapped up work on a new version of its proposed November ballot question Thursday, July 24, a proposal that includes everything County Council requested and more.
Commissioners began reworking their original ballot question to reauthorize the county’s 1 cent capital project sales tax last week after County Council rejected the previous $37.5 million version July 14 saying it needed more funding for roads.
The commission’s new $44 million proposal does just that while retaining funding for items council members questioned in the original proposal, an emergency services radio system and main county library, plus additional funding for a sheriff’s office drug testing lab.
Commissioners will present the new proposal to Council on Monday, July 28, in the hopes council members will move forward on a tabled second reading of an ordinance needed to send the ballot question to the state Elections Commission by Aug. 15.
Near the end of Thursday’s meeting, commissioner William Murphy thanked the public for their input, which commissioners considered the driving force behind their mission.
“Without you, we wouldn’t have known where to go on all this,” Murphy said. “Lots of private citizens proposed projects for this, and we want you to know they weren’t just dismissed, but carefully considered.
“What we came up with is really what we thought the voters would want to see on election day,” he said.
What’s in it?
The new $44 million proposed ballot question commissioners approved Thursday increases potential sales tax revenue spending on local state and county roads from $16.6 million to $28.3 million.
The revised amount would cover 96.7 percent of the county’s share of the 135 road projects on the S.C. Department of Transportation’s $17.8 million Act 114 list and all 35 projects on the county’s current $11.5 million roads and bridges list.
The reworked ballot question proposes $7.5 million towards a new $8 million digital radio system for the county’s emergency services.
Emergency Services officials would need to seek additional funding sources to purchase the 500 additional radios requested in their project proposal.
The new ballot question would also provide $8 million toward a project to build a new main library in Lancaster for the Lancaster County Library System.
The amount is $4.8 million less than the previously proposed ballot question’s funding for projects at all three county libraries and $2.7 million less than the system’s proposal for the main library project.
Library system director Rita Vogel said the main library’s needs are so great, however, and library officials have worked so long for funding from the county to no avail that the system would gladly work with whatever amount it could get.
Also included in the project list is $283,000 in new funding for a forensic drug testing lab for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.
Testing of drug evidence for the sheriff’s office is currently conducted by the S.C. Law Enforcement Division at a backlog, a situation Sheriff Barry Faile has said is responsible for significant delays in trials for drug crimes.
Sales tax commissioners were able to cover more projects in their new proposal by resetting the estimated base revenue amount the sales tax would generate over its seven year life.
The amount is required by law to be include in the ballot question.
The commission’s first proposal used an “ultra conservative” $37.5 million base estimate prepared by county analysts that didn’t include revenue generated by annual growth in the county’s tax base.
In its latest proposal, the commission relied on a newly prepared estimate with a reasonable 2 percent annual growth factor forecasting nearly $47 million in revenue.
To fund the projects in the new proposal, commissioners agreed to a mix of both bonds and “Pay-As-You-Go,” or PAYGO.
Should voters approve, half of the county and state road projects funded by the sales tax would be paid for with bonds so work could begin shortly after the county’s current sales tax expires with payoff of the Lancaster County Courthouse.
The emergency radio and drug testing lab projects would also be funded with bonds since both have time sensitive elements to their needs.
The remaining roadwork would use PAYGO funding, which increases the amount available for spending since there are no associated interest payments.
The library project would be the last on the funding list, a position that would allow library officials time to fundraise and could result in extra revenue from the tax to be allocated to the building project.
Last chance for
Monday’s presentation of the capital project sales tax proposal is the last chance for a voter-driven sales tax that includes public projects other than roads if County Council declines to un-table an ordinance to send it on to the state Elections Commission.
The capital project sales tax faces competition from an alternative 1 cent sales tax introduced by Councilman Jack Estridge during County Council’s July 14 meeting as well.
The alternative plan, approved during the July 14 meeting by a procedural first reading in title only, would levy an eight-year 1 cent sales tax for roads managed by a local transportation authority.
“They have two choices, they can approve it or say no,” sales tax commission chairman Durham said of the commission’s reworked proposal. “They do have another proposal on the table, and if they don’t approve ours, they’ll likely take up their own.”
Durham, like other commissioners, said he would be disappointed if County Council refused to accept the sales tax proposal given the time the commission spent in the community gathering residents’ input and opinions on the projects.
“Based on that, we feel we’ve gathered a good insight into what people want to see on the ballot question; and we hope county council will take that into consideration,” Durham said.
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151