Georgetown voters to decide on sales tax increase

Georgetown County residents will decide in November if the county will levy an additional one-cent sales tax to fund capital projects.

Council members voted 5 to 2 Tuesday on the final reading in favor of a referendum on the tax, with councilmen Bob Anderson and Ron Charlton voting against it. The decision was followed by a burst of applause from the audience of more than 100 people.

Twenty-five of them spoke during the hearing, with the majority urging commissioners to call a referendum on the tax proposal.

“I trust the voters to make the right decision,” said Michael Quinn, a sentiment echoed by others.

Some also spoke at the hearing against a Pawleys Island rezoning that would allow construction of a Wal Mart, but no action was taken on it. County spokeswoman Jackie Broach said the issue will be next discussed by the county planning commission.

If voters approve the additional sales tax, Broach said it will raise an estimated $44 million during its eight-year life from May 1, 2013 to April 30, 2021.

The money will go to 21 projects currently on the Council’s capital improvements plan. Included are things ranging from parks and libraries to dredging the Georgetown Port and building fire substations that will reduce fire insurance costs in some rural parts of the county.

Among other things, the sales tax revenue would provide $5.5 million for the dredging of Winyah Bay, $5.2 million for road paving countywide, $3.2 million for an Andrews Regional Recreation Center and $750,000 for a new Big Dam Fire Station.

The speakers on the sales tax, nearly unanimously in favor of a referendum, were not united on whether they support the tax or the projects it is to fund.

Libraries are a thing of the past and shouldn’t get any of the money, said Vikky Ferris.

“We need to think futuristically,” she said.

On the other hand, Ted Hiley said he’s been a proponent of library expansion for years, but even more so he said he’s a proponent of letting voters decide the fate of it and other projects to be funded from the revenue.

“In November,” he said, “the proposals have to stand on their own merit. As far as I’m concerned, let the chips fall where they may.”

A couple of speakers, like Ferris, said they don’t have faith that the work done from the sales tax money will generate the jobs the county needs. In fact, Irene Johnson said she doesn’t support a referendum because she doesn’t see the spending as a jobs provider.

Sure, she and Ferris conceded, some county jobs will be created. But Johnson said that the county now employs four out of every 86 county residents.

“I think that’s enough,” she said.

There likely is much debate ahead, and speaker Anita Lampley wondered if residents will be sufficiently educated on what they’d be voting for or against.

Regardless, she said that now is a particularly beneficial time in Georgetown County ‘for all the spending that’s going to take place.”