Penny sales tax debated at Rotary Club

  • Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Charlie Luquire of the Stop the Tax Hike Committee debated the Penny Sales Tax with Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce president Brian Tucker at a Rotary Club of Georgetown lunch meeting on Tuesday at Land’s End Restaurant.
It was a forum on the issues surrounding the Nov. 6 referendum on the sales tax proposal. The county already is working toward some of those projects under a Capital Improvement Plan, but the tax passage would mean improvements could be done at a quicker pace.
Tucker is in favor of the sales tax, Luquire opposes it. Each man was allowed eight minutes to discuss his position, and then answered questions.
Tucker said the Chamber is working against impact fees and supporting community efforts to establish the penny sales tax to fund $40 million in capital improvements.
He asked why are people leaving the county?
“They don’t have jobs here and an economic quality of life,” he said. “A dredged port could have a huge economic impact. Newly paved roads makes communities more attractive. Adding fire stations in rural parts of the county is a benefit for safety and insurance reasons. Ideally you need a fire station within five minutes of a house.” 
“Rural libraries, parks and recreational facilities are a plus.  A library might be the only access rural communities have to the Internet. In looking to relocate a business, a CEO wants a total package. Relocating concerns are based on a need for a developed community, and management looks at the whole county, for example the fire safety, libraries and parks.”
“I’ve seen similar tax issues work in other communities. I come from a fiscally conservative background and to me there is not a better tax proposal. It is project specific and time specific money. It is a way do away with impact fees.  From 25 to 30 percent of the tax would be paid by outsiders. Our sales tax would still be lower than other communities. For a better community, this is the best way to do it.”
Luquire said he is looking at the complete, overall economic picture of a $40 million sales tax.
“We’ve had a $300 million capital plan going since 2007,” he said. “There have been several versions of this. Back in 2008 our county had $18 million in debt. We are $64 million in debt now and we would be $90 million in debt with the passage of the penny sales tax. That does not include our schools which are $100 million in debt. We have spent $120 million on capital improvements since 2007.”
He said impact fees enacted in February 2009 were to generate $2 million per year, but have fallen way short of what the county wanted and needs to collect.
Luquire looked back to 2010, saying planned projects were reduced by the Georgetown County Council by more than $40 million, because revenue projections were trending downward and were off by $40 million. 
“The proposed dredging Winyah Bay needs to be done.  The tax would raise monies to cover county’s fair share of the Winyah Bay dredging, which is estimated at $5.4 million.”
“The motivation behind the penny sales tax is to get the capital improvement plan closer to an earlier schedule as had been indicated in original plans. We agree we need a long-term capital improvement plan, but we don’t think this is a good time to raise taxes.”
He said the issue of the Andrews bypass to nowhere still is a concern.
“It took an investment of more than $30 million to do the first half of the proposed project,” he said. “We need that Andrews road project to go forward. We would be doubling the size of libraries, while everything is going digital online, such as the recent announcement of the demise of Newsweek.”
Luquire said the county is digging its way into capital-improvement debt. 
“At some point our citizens will no longer be able to pay their share of these costs.” 

By Lloyd Mackall
For the Times

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