Foes of a proposed transportation sales tax tried to poke holes in the plan outlined by Richland County officials at the first forum Monday explaining how it would be used.
Opponents complained that problems with the tax increase of a penny on the dollar were glossed over during the session at the county recreation center in Dentsville attended by 75 residents.
“It doesn’t look like it’s been thought out on how it would impact citizens,” accountant Michael Willis said.
Tax opponents chided county officials for failure to:
• Include estimates that the new tax may cost the typical family more than $200 a year, far more than fees assessed on vehicles to keep area bus service going and for a much smaller package of annual road repairs
• Omitting that the increase would make the total tax on restaurant meals and snacks 10 cents on the dollar after saying the tax would rise to 8 cents on retail purchases and 2 cents on groceries.
• Not guaranteeing that a utility fee hike in the city of Columbia adopted for buses will be repealed if the tax is adopted.
A referendum on the tax is on the Nov. 6 ballot. It would start being collected May 1 if approved by a majority of county voters.
The tax is estimated to generate nearly $1.1 billion over 22 years.
Plans calls for $656 million in tax revenue to go to for road improvements, $300.1 million for buses and $81 million for bicycle and pedestrian paths.
Some skeptics made it clear they don’t trust county leaders to use the tax money efficiently.
“It seems to me a lot of you have been mismanaging over and over gain,” Patricia Merendino said.
Amounts may be shifted among projects within each category, but overall revenue earmarked for each of the three uses can’t be increased or lessened, county administrator Tony McDonald said.
The tax drew support from some residents as the best way to modernize roads and enhance what they called minimal bus service.
With some of the sales tax paid by visitors, the plan “sounds like a good deal,” developer David Tuttle said.
And officials at the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority said it would enable them to expand and enhance service.
The tax assures “an entire generation of financial stability” for local bus service that has scrambled recently for money to keep running, RTA executive director Robert Schneider said.
But some critics remain unhappy that separate plans for roads and buses aren’t on the ballot.
Combining them into one package is an effort to “hold us hostage” to swallow road improvements that are sometimes questionable in order to provide aid to keep buses rolling, resident Jim Lawrence said.
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.