Sales tax hike for road projects? Horry County voters to decide

Traffic jams the U.S. 501 bridge over the Waccamaw River in Conway.
Traffic jams the U.S. 501 bridge over the Waccamaw River in Conway. jblackmon@thesunnews.com

A one percent sales tax increase to raise nearly $600 million for Horry County road projects will be decided by voters in the November election.

The Horry County Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to put the question to the ballot on RIDE III — a list of prioritized roads that has been in the works for more than a year.

The list of 20 projects includes widening U.S. 501 and Carolina Forest Boulevard, extending Palmetto Point Boulevard to S.C. 544 and widening S.C. 9 east of Loris.

RIDE III would also provide funding for the Southern Evacuation Lifeline and construction of S.C. 31 to the North Carolina state line.

The council passed the third reading of the ordinance with little discussion except for the proposal to spend $60 million to pave 100 miles of dirt roads.

Councilman Gary Loftus questioned whether it was fiscally wise to spend so much money for the benefit of a limited number of taxpayers.

According to Loftus, 1,008 households would benefit from that chunk of spending, averaging $59,000 per home to pave dirt roads — about 10 percent of the entire RIDE III funding.

“I just want to make that point,” Loftus said. “I’m going to vote in November, and I won’t tell you how I’m going to vote.”

$600 MillionSales tax revenue from RIDE III

Councilman Paul Prince disputed Loftus’ claim, and said homeowners along dirt roads have just as much right to the RIDE III funding, which will largely benefit tourists, as they have to deal with the hordes of tourist vehicle traffic as well.

“Hundreds of millions of tourists are going to be coming back and forth through Horry County,” Prince said. “County people here deserve some relief too.”

If passed by the voters in November, the sales tax would go into effect May 1, 2017 and remain in effect for eight years.

The tax would be applied countywide on all retail sales, accommodations, prepared food and beverage. Groceries, which were taxed under previous RIDE projects, would be exempt from the sales tax in RIDE III.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson