Borrowing for road projects cheaper in the long run, municipal leaders say

dhinshaw@thestate.comSeptember 20, 2012 

Municipal officials attending a transportation sales-tax presentation Thursday said voters need to focus on a second ballot question, too.

That question asks permission for Richland County to borrow up to $450 million that would be repaid with proceeds from the sales tax.

Doing that would allow the county to jump-start a $1 billion project list for road improvements, bus service, new sidewalks, bike lanes and greenways, county officials say.

Blythewood Mayor Mike Ross said the presentation was the first he’d heard of the bond issue.

“What a time to borrow money,” Ross said. “Never going to be cheaper.”

City administrator Steve Gantt noted Columbia had just refinanced its debt, saving an estimated $18 million in interest payments over the life of the bonds.

“You need to borrow just as much money as you can,” Gantt advised.

The Nov. 6 election will include two ballot questions for Richland County voters: The first, whether to increase the sales tax; the second, whether to borrow the money.

Interim county administrator Tony McDonald said the sales tax is expected to generate $50 million a year. That means projects could get started without borrowing money but “it would just be a lot slower.”

Too, he said, having a pool of money to start with would allow the county to bid multiple projects at once, generating possible “economies of scale” by contractors.

“We strongly believe the savings we’d get by doing the projects at today’s costs would outweigh the cost in interest,” McDonald said.

County officials invited municipal officials to the Township Auditorium for the same presentation being given at community meetings through the month.

Dawn Hinshaw

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