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Georgetown County voters to decide on Penny Sales Tax

  • Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When Georgetown County voters go to the polls this fall, they’ll be asked to decide if a one-cent sales tax will be implemented to help fund vital capital projects, including dredging at the Port of Georgetown.

County Council voted unanimously on Aug. 12 to put the issue on the ballot in the form of a countywide referendum. If approved, the one-cent Capital Project Sales Tax would go into effect on May 1, 2015, and disappear four years later on April 30, 2019. State law mandates the tax could not be extended past that term without another referendum.

It is anticipated the tax would generate about $7 million per year, for a total of $28 million during the life of the tax.

These funds would be used to pay for projects in three key areas: Dredging, countywide road improvements and enhancements to fire and rescue service.

The need for dredging at the Georgetown port was a driving factor in council’s decision to present the sales tax to the public.

Dredging at the port has been identified as key to future economic development in the county, but efforts to secure federal funding for the project have been unsuccessful.

The state committed funds for the project in its budget this year, but local funds are still needed for the project to go forward.

The Capital Project Sales Tax would provide $16.3 million for two local dredging projects and creation of a dredge spoils site.

Dredging at Winyah Bay would allow the Georgetown port to accommodate larger ships and significantly increase tonnage.

Each annual increase of 500,000 tons would create 42 new jobs and $1.3 million annually in new local household income, according to a 2010 report by economist Donald Schunk.

If the sales tax referendum passes, the county could get the dredging process initiated immediately.

The tax would also fund dredging at Murrells Inlet, an area that contributes significantly to the County’s economy.

This would benefit tourism, the commercial fishing industry and local businesses that benefit from tourist activity. Moreover, this would ensure that there will be adequate water depth to provide recreational opportunities to county residents.

The second largest allocation of sales tax revenue would be directed to road resurfacing throughout the county, including within municipalities.

Just under $9 million would go into road projects, funding resurfacing of about 45 miles of roadway on about 100 roads.

A complete listing of road projects to be funded with sales tax revenue, along with other Capital Project Sales Tax information, will be available on the county’s website, www.gtcounty.org, by Monday,Aug. 18.

The sales tax would also generate $3 million for enhancement of fire and rescue service in the county. This is perhaps the area where county residents would see the biggest direct financial return from the tax.

In recent years, many homeowners in the county have seen home insurance rates rise significantly as a result of their home not being located within five road miles of a fire station.

In some cases, home insurance policies were canceled entirely. Capital Project Sales Tax revenue would be used to construct a new fire station in the Big Dam community, as well as fire substations throughout the county.

These projects would put virtually every county resident within five road miles of a fire station, lowering home insurance rates.

Additionally, a portion of funds would be used to construct a new building to house police and fire operations in the Town of Andrews.

The Andrews Fire Department has a mutual aid agreement with county fire departments, meaning they provide support and resources to other departments in the county when needed.

As a result, this investment would have benefits extending well beyond the town limits.

The county is one of only eight counties in the state that has no special tax added onto the six percent state sales tax. A one-cent Capital Project Sales Tax in Beaufort County ended in June 2012, and another in Greenwood County ended in July 2012. This November, 11 S.C. counties, including Georgetown, and two school districts will have sales tax referendums.

Georgetown County residents voted down a similar tax proposal in 2012.

County officials heard residents’ concerns about the tax and took those into account when crafting the current referendum.

The window for tax collection was cut in half from what was proposed in 2012, and the project list was also trimmed significantly, limiting projects to those considered vital. Projects were selected by a six-member committee, with members representing all regions of the county. By state law, tax funds must be used to complete projects selected by the committee and outlined in the referendum.

Between now and Election Day, the county will work to educate voters on what is being proposed in the referendum.

Community groups and organizations can request to schedule a presentation on the Capital Project Sales Tax by contacting Jackie Broach, the county’s public information officer, at (843) 545-3164 or jbroach@gtcounty.org.

Informational materials on the Capital Project Sales Tax will be available on the county’s website, www.gtcounty.org, by Monday, Aug. 18.

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