EXCLUSIVE: Many requests vie for share of proposed Lexington County tax

February 6, 2014 

  • If I could get one thing from the penny tax, it would be....

    A bypass around the north side of Lexington.

    “It would help keep traffic moving. Going through town is a bottleneck.”

    Dave Landis , a neighborhood leader near Lexington

    Widening Columbia Avenue through the center of Chapin.*

    “It’s needed with the new technology park coming that will bring growth to our area.”

    Julie Nelson , a neighborhood leader near Chapin

    Improved drainage on streets in Cayce. *

    ‘It would help avert flooding in neighborhoods.”

    Chris Kueny , restaurateur and neighborhood leader

    A museum in West Columbia.

    “It would be a legacy, a landmark of life along the (Congaree) river over the centuries.”

    Bobby George, a neighborhood leader in the city

    *Ideas recommended by local officials there.

— Nearly 200 ideas for new roads, buildings, parks and other improvements are competing for a share of a proposed penny-on-the-dollar sales tax under consideration in Lexington County.

Many of those projects submitted by the deadline Thursday will be included in a package being developed for a probable Nov. 4 referendum.

Aid that the tax could provide “would be a godsend” in a struggle to keep pace with steady growth, Swansea Mayor Ray Spires said.

But opposition to the tax is emerging already, even though what it would pay for won’t be determined until June.

County Republican chairman Bill Rentiers of Red Bank said there is “a lot of feedback” against a plan taking shape at the direction of the all-GOP County Council.

Some county leaders say the tax is the only way to make long-wanted projects, particularly to ease traffic jams, happen in the foreseeable future.

“It’s the best tax possible,” former County Councilman Smokey Davis of Lexington said. “You get to vote on exactly what you’re buying and for how long.”

The new penny could be used for roads, sidewalks, buildings, water and sewer facilities, parks, trails, libraries, parking, drainage and other projects.

It’s estimated it would generate up to $300 million over eight years, with purchases of groceries and prescription medicine exempt. The average annual cost would be about $130 per resident.

The tax would be added to the 7 cents on the dollar now charged, which includes a penny for county schools. It would expire in 2023, but could be renewed with voter approval.

A six-member panel will cull the suggestions into a package that would be accomplished with the tax. After that, county leaders will decide whether to submit the plan to voters for acceptance this fall.

No price tag for many suggested projects has been determined yet, but it’s already clear that demand far exceeds revenue expected.

The tab is about $500 million – nearly two-thirds of it for roads – for slightly more than half of projects submitted, according to a survey by The State newspaper of two dozen municipalities, schools and other agencies. But the cost of the remainder would be less, since no major road improvements are included.

Many of the 14 towns and cities are seeking intersection improvements while county officials are proposing large projects such as a new entry for Columbia Metropolitan Airport off I-26.

Relief from traffic congestion across the 720-square-mile county with 262,000 residents is the impetus for the tax, Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat of Irmo said.

Road improvements constitute half of the requests, followed by sidewalks, water, sewage and drainage projects. Among other proposals:

• A water recreation park in Springdale

• More than 10 miles of trails for walking, jogging and sightseeing along the lower Saluda River as well as a spur connecting it to West Columbia

• An Irmo-area complex to train youngsters on safety

• A 600-seat performing arts auditorium at Chapin High School, as well as a separate cultural center in the town

• A welcome center for a park in Cayce that is an archaeological dig as well as a historical site on Native American culture

• Athletic fields and recreation facilities in Dixiana, Gaston, Pelion and Pine Ridge

• New town halls for Batesburg-Leesville, Cayce, Gaston, Pelion, South Congaree and Springdale

• Regional centers for deputies, ambulances and other services near Batesburg-Leesville and in Dixiana

Some county leaders hope road improvements make up the bulk of the package recommended by the panel.

A focus on easing traffic bottlenecks and lessening danger for motorists “gets everybody’s attention” and makes the tax palatable, County Councilman Bill Banning of West Columbia said.

There’s no guarantee that roads will dominate the panel’s choices.

Projects with significant community and economic impact likely will find most favor, panel chairman Mike Crapps of Lexington said.

“Our job is not to figure out how to sell it,” he said. “There will be pieces some folks agree strongly with and pieces some folks disagree strongly with.”

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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