Edgefield County Council Chairman’s Update

July 30, 2013

In this issue of my Update, I wanted to focus on one item by providing some basic information on an important item County Council will discuss at its meeting on August 6: A 1 percent Capital Sales Tax. It’s a concept worth discussing, and the best thing is that you, the voter, get to decide if it’s put into place!
I thought I’d use a question-and-answer format as a way to help explain it.
Why do you want to raise my taxes?
Nobody wants to raise taxes, particularly me. I don’t think County Council wants to raise taxes either. But our County is falling behind in renovating buildings, providing needed infrastructure, and improving the quality of life for our citizens. If we don’t do something soon, the problems will only get worse – and cost even more money later. County Council has to keep focusing on the future.
What is a 1 percent Capital Sales Tax?
It is a one-cent sales tax added to all purchases, excepted unprepared food, in Edgefield County. It will raise an estimated $900,000 a year, according to the S.C. Budget and Control Board. It can only be used to fund certain areas that voters will be told about long before the November 2014 election, when you’ll vote on it. Since the maximum time the tax can be on the books is 8 years, it is expected to raise a little over $6 million. That money can repair, replace, create and upgrade many of our facilities.
What can this tax money fund?
Here are the only items that are allowed under this sales tax:

(a) highways, roads, streets, bridges, and public parking garages and related facilities;
(b) courthouses, administration buildings, civic centers, hospitals, emergency medical facilities, police stations, fire stations, jails, correctional facilities, detention facilities, libraries, coliseums, educational facilities under the direction of an area commission for technical education, or any combination of these projects;
(c) cultural, recreational, or historic facilities, or any combination of these facilities;
(d) water, sewer, or water and sewer projects;
(e) flood control projects and storm water management facilities;
(f) beach access and beach renourishment;
(g) dredging, dewatering, and constructing spoil sites, disposing of spoil materials, and other matters directly related to the act of dredging;
(h) jointly operated projects of the county, a municipality, special purpose district, and school district, or any combination of those entities, for the projects delineated in subitems (a) through (g) of this item;
(i) any combination of the projects described in subitems (a) through (h) of this item;

What would the County use the money for?

We have lots of needs, from jail renovations, recreation facilities, emergency medical services, etc., many of which were outlined as needs in a Capital Improvement Plan passed by County Council last year. (You can see that plan on the County website.)
However, state law requires a special Commission be appointed and be made up of 6 members to determine what items the tax will fund. In other words, the Commission must determine what items to fund, then the County Council must approve them by passing an ordinance, then the referendum goes on the ballot in November 2014.  After the results are certified, the tax could not begin until May 2015.
Does the Commission come up with the list of items the tax will be used to fund?
Yes, the Commission decides on what the list of work looks like, prioritizes it, and submits it to the County Council. All County Council can do is either approve the list as presented, which would put the question on the ballot, or reject it. So, you would know exactly what you’re voting on.

What if voters don’t approve this 1 cent sales tax?

Then this sales tax won’t go into effect. However, the problems in our infrastructure that have been identified in our Capital Improvement Plan and, ultimately, by the Commission won’t go away, and the County is still going to have to find ways to deal with it in the future.
Who pays this sales tax?
Anyone who pays for goods and services in Edgefield County pays the sales tax. But keep in mind that means people who pass through our County, or do business with our County from outside areas, pay the sales tax. So, it is not just funded from local residents.
Is this another tax that stays on the books forever?
No, this tax is limited in time. The County must pass an ordinance specifying what the funds will be used for (provided by the appointed Commission) and what the length of time the tax will be collected. The maximum length of time the County could collect the tax is 8 years, then the law says it must come off the books. The law also says that if the County collects the money it said it needed in less than 8 years, the tax comes off the books early.

But couldn’t County Council just extend the tax after 8 years?

No. State law says that if the County Council wants to “extend” the tax, we have to start over. That means a Commission has to be reappointed, they have to provide Council with a new list of projects, Council must accept it, voters have to be told about it, and it goes on the ballot again for voter approval.
Where is County Council in this process?
We will discuss the concept at the August 6 meeting. If we agree that we want to move forward, the first vote – to appoint a Commission – could be held as early as the September meeting.

I don’t know if that answers every question you could ask, but that covers the overall concept. It is a very transparent process that you, the voters, ultimately control. If you have questions, please let me know!
Dean Campbell