Lexington County tax swap ‘dead in the water’

tflach@thestate.comApril 13, 2014 

THE STATE

— Supporters shelved an effort to tie a property tax rollback to the success of a proposed penny-on-the-dollar sales tax plan taking shape in Lexington County.

The idea is “dead in the water,” County Councilman Frank Townsend of Batesburg-Leesville said. “There wasn’t enough interest.”

Townsend unsuccessfully sought a commitment from other county leaders for to a small cut in property taxes – the main source of revenue for services – if voters OK a new sales tax for road repairs and other projects.

A Nov. 4 referendum on the sales tax is taking shape as an advisory panel starts to settle on the package of improvements the tax would support.

Townsend sought a cut of $8 on a home valued at $100,000 for taxes, far less that the average of about $110 per resident that the sales tax would add.

A guarantee of a rollback would be a symbolic step that could help make the sales tax more palatable, some members of the all-Republican nine-member County Council said.

The push for it faded as other council members say it’s difficult already to pay for county services – particularly public safety and emergency medical care – to keep pace with steady population growth.

Requests for more staff pending now include 10 firefighters, 10 paramedics and emergency medical technicians, four 911 dispatchers and doubling dirt roads paved to eight miles.

A tax cut sounds appealing but would hamstring everyday services already operating on a financial shoestring, Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat of Irmo said.

“If we had the money for all these improvements, we wouldn’t be seeking the sales tax,” he said.

A state cap on local property taxes will come into play as council members begin work on a spending plan for the year starting July 1 with requests for increases totaling $12.4 million.. The maximum allowed hasn’t been determined, but it typically isn’t enough to allow all increases sought.

The six members of the advisory panel are wading through $672 million in proposals for roads, drainage, recreation, buildings and other projects, more than double the $290 million that the tax is estimated to produce over its eight-year life.

Purchases of groceries and prescription medicine would be exempt from the sales tax.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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