Beginning The Process

 

Sales Tax: growing local projects from grassroots

 

The voters will decide - decide if there will be a new EMS building, a new library for Clinton, a center for the advancement of agriculture and/or technology, or a historic courthouse that is fully renovated and functional.

These are some of the projects that could be funded by The Capital Initiative, a 1-cent sales tax increase to be voted on in Laurens County in November, 2020.

No projects have been designated so far, but these will have to be listed on the ballot question. A 6-person panel appointed at the county and municipalities level will decide which projects will be listed for the voters.

The new tax is expected to raise $40 million. It sunsets after 8 years.

Greenwood County found out just recently that its latest capital projects sales tax is going to come up short by $20 million.

“That’s my greatest fear,” Laurens County Council Chairman Dr. David Pitts said at a Thursday evening forum. “That the tax will come up short, and not all projects will get done.”

If that happens, voters can be asked to approve “a second round” of The Capital Initiative. Some counties, Pitts said, are on their third and fourth rounds of voter-approved funding for capital projects.

“This will be a grassroots effort,” Pitts said, “and it will be transparent.”

By Sept. 27, the 6-member committee to hear pitches about well-thought-out projects and write the ballot question will be selected. Three members will be named by the Laurens County Council, one by the Laurens City Council, one by the Clinton City Council, and one by a formula based on the populations of the other county municipalities. The ballot question must be formed by August 2020, and presented to the county council for passage of an ordinance (three readings and a public hearing). If approved in November 2020, also a presidential election date, the tax will go into effect in May, 2021.

Pitts said the county will borrow $40 million, if the vote passes, and will repay the debt as the 1-cent sales tax revenues come into the county coffers. “It is a revenue bond. The state has to call it a general obligation bond,” Pitts said, “but it is a revenue bond - the revenue generated by the tax pays for the projects. Once we and the municipalities appoint the 6-member committee, your county council must back off.”

The committee will be responsible for acquiring from the SC Department of Revenue a list of taxed and exempted-from-tax items, and publicizing that list to the voters. Sub-committees of the 6-member committee will vet each project for interest, feasibility and expected cost. “Some counties have done 75-100 small projects,” Pitts said, “and some have done just a few projects.”

All members of the Laurens County Council attended the referendum Informational Public Meeting, where Pitts was the facilitator; for Clinton, City Manager Bill Ed Cannon and council member Megan Walsh attended.

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