Georgetown County voters reject capital projects sales tax

Voters defeated a capital projects sales tax proposal 55-45 percent, dashing the hopes of backers who supported the funds for port dredging, new libraries, parks and fire stations.

With 36 of 39 precincts reporting, the measure had 15,584 votes against it to 12,831 in favor.

About 200 votes had yet to be tallied by press time.

“I’m real pleased that it didn’t pass,‘’ said Charlie Luquire, who chaired the Stop the Tax Hike Committee. “The timing just wasn’t right for a tax increase.‘’

But the group supports the port dredging and wants to be involved in finding a way to pay the county’s expected $5.5 million share of the cost, he said.

Bill Crowther, who chairs the Pennies for Progress group that supported the proposal, said he was disappointed, but that now, “our goal is to get the port dredged.‘’

He and Luquire suggest the county can reallocate money planned for other capital projects such as parks and libraries.

Crowther, who is also executive director of the Alliance for Economic Development, said members may have some other ideas to propose for the channel dredging.

This is the fourth time Georgetown County residents have refused to approve an additional penny of sales tax. Twice they voted against adding the tax to cut property taxes, and once they turned it down for parks and similar projects.

The proposal cannot be put on the ballot again for two years, according to state law.

The sales tax was to be used for only the items listed on the ballot, led by $5.5 million for the local share of the cost to restore the silted-in shipping channel to its approved 27-foot depth.

It would have been collected for eight years, with a total of about $40 million expected. The tax could not be collected after eight years unless voters approve it again.

Crowther said the projects in the sales tax proposal are good for the quality of life in the county and would have added the kind of attributes that make it easier to recruit new businesses and new residents.

The channel dredging is also important to the economy, Crowther said. If the port is fully functioning again, new business can be recruited that can use the facility.

The new fire stations would have saved money for many people whose house insurance has gone up because they are rated as too far from a firehouse, Crowther also said.

The new fire insurance ratings require a station within five miles for the best rates. For many years, five miles was considered good enough for the best rates.

Opponents said all the projects are worthy, but should be paid for as the county obtains the money and not with a new tax, they said.

Opponents also said the county is building facilities faster than it can staff and maintain them.

They also objected to the county borrowing $40 million to do all the projects at once, rather than doing them one at a time as the money came in. State law allows the county to borrow the money all at once, and Crowther said supporters agree with that action because both borrowing and labor are cheaper now than they may be in the next few years.

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