Port Taskforce supports penny sales tax

  • Friday, August 15, 2014

Clayton Stairs/South Strand News The Port of Georgetown, above, is in need of maintenance dredging for its channel to allow larger ships to come into Winyah Bay.

A group that has been working for three years to find funding for dredging of the canal leading to the Port of Georgetown has voiced its support for a proposed penny sales tax.

The Georgetown Port Task Force voted unanimously on Aug. 13 to support the Capital Improvements Sales Tax referendum that will be on the November ballot after passing three readings by County Council on Aug. 12.

One of five capital projects for the sales tax funds is Georgetown Port dredging to an approved depth of 27 feet, the county’s portion of which is estimated at $6 million.

This would provide a match required for state and federal funding that will be added to that, reaching a total $33.5 million.

“This will be an historic vote in Georgetown County that will change people’s lives in a positive way,” Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill said during the taskforce meeting.

“We all know that dredging this port means big commercial and tourism opportunities.”

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, according to County Administrator Sel Hemingway.

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, Hemingway stated.

McGill said if the sales tax referendum passes it would benefit the community and surrounding areas.

“This minor investment will help cut back heavy taxation,” he said.

“Once this thing occurs, I think taxpayers on the coast and inland will see tax relief on their pocketbooks.”

He also announced that state funding has been approved and federal funding should be in line soon.

“I report today that we are very soon to be in the right position,” McGill said. “It appears as though everything is coming together.”

He acknowledged the S.C. Ports Authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local industry leaders, county government and municipalities, state and federal lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Jim Clyburn, U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, S.C. Sen. Ray Cleary and Gov. Nikki Haley, and the taskforce for all of their help to reach this point.

“Right now our national delegation members, Sen. Clyburn and others are working diligently to help us to get funding on the national level,” McGill said.

South Carolina leaders announced in June that state funding of maintenance dredging for the Port of Georgetown has been approved as part of its $18 million budget.

McGill, speaking on behalf of Sen. Ray Cleary, Rep. Carl Anderson, and Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, announced June 16 that the state’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget included $5 million for the dredging project and promises $2.6 million in each of the next five years.

He added that the dredging project will take four years and port renovations are being planned as well.

Cleary, who represents the Murrells Inlet area and other parts of Georgetown and Horry counties, commended the taskforce, County Council and leadership of citizens in Georgetown County for doing a great job seeking funding for the port dredging.

“We heard more ‘No’s in Columbia than ‘Yes’s,” Cleary said.

“It was a fight and we wouldn’t be where we are without Lt. Gov. McGill.”

Hemingway agreed, stating that port dredging is a “vital project for Georgetown County, South Carolina and the nation.”

“The dredging project is almost universally accepted in all areas of the county,” Hemingway said.

“That shows how important this project is to the well being of our county.”

Cleary commented during the meeting that in working with past referendums in Horry County, he found it is important to have a public relations committee to educate the public about the importance of the vote.

“It worries me that if we don’t get into that type of thing we have chance of maybe losing out on the vote,” Cleary said.

“I think we would be dropping the ball if we don’t consider it.”

The other members of the taskforce agreed that this is important but Tim Tilley, chair of the taskforce, said they would discuss that at their next meeting, the time and place to be determined.

Tilley stated that the state legislative delegation formed the taskforce in 2011 and it is a non-partisan group with members of federal delegations and many state agencies.

“We have come together, unified, and we are beginning to see how unifying into one body can make progress,” Tilley said.

“I am very proud of being associated with this taskforce for three years.”

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