LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC — The mayors of many of Lexington Countys 14 municipalties are starting to line up in favor of a referendum on a one-cent sales tax hike for roads, sewers and other improvements.
That support comes as County Council members prepare to develop a plan that could go to voters for approval as soon as 2014.
The new tax would be used for a variety of projects, not just transportation as the tax increase approved last week by Richland County voters.
Preliminary discussion includes extending greenways along the Saluda River, building new community centers as well as paving dirt roads, adding a new entrance off I-26 into Columbia Metropolitan Airport and adding drainage to end flooding in Irmo area neighborhoods.
Theres no shortage of things that need to get done, Cayce Mayor Elise Partin.
But revenue from the proposed tax cant be used to expand limited bus service provided by the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority as allowed in Richland County.
Momentum for the tax referendum in Lexingon County is developing as council members weigh coming up with a package of projects that would be paid by a tax increase, estimated to generate up to $35 million a year. The list will include specific amounts per project.
Its an investment in our future, Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre said.
The tax is the only way to pay for long-delayed improvements as federal and state aid is harder to get, officials said.
Were looking at this as a way of keeping up with growth, County Councilman Johnny Jeffcoat of Irmo said.
Some small-town mayors want to make sure their communities arent overlooked.
The question is if they can come up with enough benefit for these areas, Pelion Mayor Charles Haggard said.
Some county leaders promise to make sure that happens.
Its got to be something for everybody for it to have enough support, County Councilman Jim Kinard of Swansea said.
Mayors of other small communities expect to get a share as county leaders strive to come up with a plan with countywide appeal.
Well get a piece of the pie, Pine Ridge Mayor David Busby predicted.
County leaders are telling communities to develop a list of projects that would be submitted to a yet-to-be-named advisory panel that would recommend a package of improvements for use of the tax.
Projects most likely to win favor will be those with major impact, such as luring new jobs or reducing road congestion, council chairman Bill Banning of West Columbia said.
Any package adopted will specify how much of the tax proceeds would be earmarked for each project.
The tax would last for eight years initially, but could be renewed by voters every seven years after that. Richland Countys tax will extend up to 22 years.
It would increase the sales tax to eight cents on the dollar, but its unclear if it will apply to groceries now exempt. Unlike Richland County, there is no separate tax on restaurant dining, take-out meals and snacks in Lexington County.
Supporters expect opposition to the tax. But backers say theres no other way to keep from falling further behind in coping with a steady influx of newcomers drawn by good schools, affordable homes and the resort lifestyle of Lake Murray.
Theres always people out there who will say, no, no, no, Jeffcoat said. My answer is if not this, what?
The push for the tax is finding favor among leaders of Irmo, a town that straddles Lexington and Richland counties.
Mayor Hardy King is comfortable with the shorter duration of the proposed tax in Lexington County and the commitment to spell out uses in detail.
His endorsement is likely if the plan includes decent projects, King said.
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.