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Referendum to be limited to five projects

  • Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Capital Sales Tax Commission members, led by Chairman George Geer III, have decided to follow the recommendations of County Administrator Sel Hemingway to limit the referendum to five core projects throughout the county and a time period of four years for a one cent sales tax.

The commission, studying projects for a proposed sales tax referendum on the November ballot, is on track to meet its July 8 deadline for second reading of County Council.

The commission also decided to include language that would allow County Council to borrow money and possibly have all five projects start around the same time.

The estimated amount that the sales tax would generate is $7 million per year for four years, which equals $28 million.

The five core county projects were determined by a series of local surveys conducted by the University of South Carolina.

They are Georgetown Port dredging, the county’s portion of which is estimated at $6 million; Murrells Inlet dredging, expected to cost about $8 million for dredging and $2.3 million for disposal site preparation; Andrews police and fire facilities, estimated to cost $1.5 million; building of fire substations throughout the county and one fire station, expected to cost about $1.5 million; and countywide road improvements, estimated to cost $8.7 million (or the remainder after the exact costs of the other projects are figured).

Hemingway told the commission members that if the language to borrow money is in the referendum question, County Council will do what it needs to do to get the projects started as soon as possible.

“If you include allowable language in the referendum question such as, ‘Funds may be borrowed to service the debt,’ ultimately it is left up to County Council,” Hemingway said.

“If you give Council the flexibility to consider borrowing money to implement the plan at a faster pace, they can decide how to borrow, when to borrow and how much to borrow, rather than doing it on a pay-as-you-go basis.”

He added that borrowing money would help keep the project costs to a minimum since costs of construction will go up in the four-year period.

Another way money will be saved is that the county will use its personnel for the fire stations and the Andrews fire and police complex, Hemingway said.

The two dredging projects will be led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the roads project will be led by SC Department of Transportation (DOT).

The County’s Finance Committee, which would be in charge of the funds, would just hand over the lump sum for those projects and those agencies would handle the rest, Hemingway said.

Action remaining

The Commission must now decide the priority of the five projects, which would be used if County Council decides not to borrow money to complete the five projects at the same time.

Hemingway explained that if Council decides to do the projects on a pay-as-you-go basis, the top project would have to be fully funded by the sales tax before the next project could be funded, and so on.

Members of the Commission expressed concerns that if the referendum passes, voters will want to see projects being completed throughout the county, but especially in the areas where they live.

The Commission also needs to decide whether to include a list of roads for the resurfacing project or to use amounts of money for different areas of the county.

Hemingway said he will check to find out what is required for the referendum question.

The Commission will meet again at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 19, at the County Administration Office on Prince Street.

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