Penny sales tax faces first hurdle Tuesday

  • Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GEORGETOWN S.C. — A proposal for an additional penny sales tax on some items will face its first hurdle Tuesday night.
Georgetown County Council will consider the proposal that would get the ball rolling on the sales tax during its regular meeting.
The acceptance of the resolution could lead to the matter being taken to the public, then placed on the ballot in November.
The vote to accept a one cent sales tax, however, has already been rejected twice by Georgetown County voters.
The last time was in 2004, when it was defeated by a narrow margin. The money at that time would have been used for property tax rollback.
Voters rejected the one cent sales tax at that time, despite the pleas from a committee that it would help with property taxes.
Voters also rejected a proposal for a penny sales tax in the 1990s.
According to the S.C. Board of Economic Advisors, the acceptance of the penny sales tax depends on voter preference.
This includes perception of local needs, how they will be personally affected and the intended use of the proceeds.
“Statewide, sales tax collections peaked in fiscal year 2007 at $2.63 million,” according to information from the board. “They declined in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and bounced back a little in 2011. Fiscal year 2011 collections were about 15 percent below the year 2007 peak.”
Susan Turkopuls, a spokesperson with the S.C. Association of Counties, said the one cent sales tax has already been passed in other parts of South Carolina.
Additional tax has helped build roads, jails and libraries in Aiken, Chester, Florence, Greenwood and Horry counties, according to Turkopuls.
Other counties have used the money for property tax rollback, according to Turkopuls.
In some counties, it can take several attempts to get it passed, she said.
“I know that some have passed and some haven’t,” Turkopuls said. “It’s limited to seven years. When it expires, it has to come up for referendum again to be reimposed. It can only be spent on projects that are outlined in the referendum. They are required to do certain reports on the progress of the projects.”
“It is definitely something where counties need to have a set goal in mind and communicate that goal to their citizens,” she said.
The counties that have approved the tax have used the money to build roads, schools, libraries and jails.
The money must be spent on specific projects, approved by Georgetown County Council, with input from county voters.
“It all depends on the will of the citizens of the county whether they want this,” Turkopuls said.
 If the county does pass a resolution in favor of the 1-cent sales tax, they must appoint a six-person commission to take the matter to the public.
Residents will then be allowed to say what they want to build with the money.
The county’s impact fee could be revoked if the voters ultimately approve the one cent sales tax.
“I think that it is something that we need to take a look at,” said Georgetown Councilman Jerry Oakley. “The Horry County ride on a penny sales tax is a capital projects sales tax and I think it has been very successful. The nice thing is that the referendum sales tax must specify what it will be spent for. The voters get to decide precisely what the money will be spent for.”

Port dredging

The money, if approved by voters, could also be used for such projects as dredging the Port of Georgetown.
Sen. Yancey McGill, (D-Kingstree) and Sen. Ray Cleary, (R-Murrells Inlet) have proposed a bill that would use the money for port dredging.  
The six-person sales tax commission would assist in holding the public meetings, Morant said.
After getting an idea of what the community wants, the commission will report their findings to County Council.
Council will then approve the final list of capital projects, said Georgetown County Councilman Johnny Morant.
“It’s really things that the citizens of the county would like to see,” Morant said. “Whether it’s library expansion or things of that nature. I think it’s an ideal situation to complete and get input from the citizens.”

By Kelly Marshall Fuller

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