Hostility emerges to Lexington County penny projects tax

tflach@thestate.comMay 12, 2014 

Lexington County road improvements – minus County Council’s top choice – compose the bulk of projects that would be supported by a proposed penny-on-the-dollar sales tax, One of the key projects in the $175 million in road improvements tentatively settled on by the panel includes widening Longs Pond Road – a major route for commuters and cargo haulers – off I-20 near Lexington and Red Bank.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

  • Adviser eligible for some work

    The company serving as an adviser to the panel preparing Lexington County’s package of sales tax projects is eligible to work on some parts of the plan afterward.

    Alliance Consulting Engineers can help guide completion of up to 10 percent of the $268.1 million plan under a deal with County Council.

    That limit was adopted to assure work is spread among several companies, Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat of Irmo said.

    “We knew there would be some concern” about favoritism without a restriction, he said.

    Council members selected Alliance last fall after privately interviewing a half dozen firms, citing the company’s experience in shaping such packages in picking it for the job.

    The choice drew complaints that the company is based outside the county. It is receiving $450,000 as the panel’s adviser.

Opposition is surfacing to a proposed penny-on-the-dollar sales tax in Lexington County as the final touches were placed Monday on the improvements it would support.

Opponents are upset with what they consider frivolous inclusions such as new recreation facilities, a walking path along the lower Saluda River, library expansion and civic centers for Gaston and Swansea.

“There’s too much frosting on the cake,” said political consultant R.J. Shealy, who said he is advising the group being organized to promote rejection of the tax and projects at a Nov. 4 ballot.

The projects under fire compose about a seventh of the $268.1 million package of 69 projects that an advisory panel of civic leaders chose.

Panel members generally picked the top choices of community leaders who say they need more money to make improvements long-wanted to keep pace with steady growth.

The message to voters is “you have your future in your own hands,” said public relations executive Lee Bussell of Chapin, a member of the panel.

Opponents will suggest a smaller tax hike – no more than a half-cent on the dollar – would be better if devoted only to roads and perhaps water, sewer and drainage upgrades, Shealy said.

The opposition emerged as another $91.3 million in projects was added to the package.

Panel members on what they call “contingencies” – projects that will occur if those ahead of them cost less to build, are canceled or if revenue from the proposed penny-on the-dollar tax is more than expected.

Unlike the main package, the list of provisional projects isn’t dominated by roads.

Its 23 projects include $43.6 million for transportation, $40 million for recreation, libraries and other new facilities and $7.7 million for water, sewer and drainage.

Projects on that list include $30.2 million to pave about 40 miles of dirt roads, $13.2 million to expand libraries in eight communities, $12.2 million for a new sports complex in Dixiana, $8.8 million for a new municipal facility in Springdale and $4 million for a community center in Chapin.

Panel members plan to settle on final details Thursday before sending the package to County Council for approval.

If approved by voters countywide, the new tax hike would last eight years, but can be renewed.

Groceries and prescription medicine would remain exempt from the tax. The current sales tax is 7 cents on the dollar.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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