Pro-tax effort in Lexington County focuses on ending road congestion, improving safety

04/23/2014 10:00 PM

04/23/2014 9:39 PM

Reducing congestion and increasing safety on roads is the focus of a business-led campaign taking shape to promote a proposed penny-on-the-dollar sales tax in Lexington County.

The plan emerged Wednesday as leaders of the effort met with community leaders across the county to start lining up support for a tax hike expected to be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

“It’s a huge challenge, but it’s a challenge we feel we can meet,” said Randy Halfacre, president of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce. “We’re organizing to start that effort.”

The group plans a “knock-on-doors” campaign through small gatherings to sell the tax instead of a media ad blitz “at this point,” said Scott Adams, a consultant for the effort.

Much of that contact will tout local improvements the tax would provide for different areas, he said.

The 720-square-mile county is a mix of growing suburbs, older communities, small towns and neighborhoods scattered in rural areas.

Tax supporters will rely on assistance in marketing and other help from businesses who view the tax as a way to enhance their communities, Adams said.

That game plan is similar to what worked in other areas, including the one-cent transportation sales tax adopted in adjoining Richland County in 2012.

A six-member advisory panel will start settling on the package of projects Wednesday that the tax would pay for, selecting from ideas totaling $672.9 million.

Those requests are more than double the $290 million state economists predict the tax would generate during its eight-year life.

Panel members plan to submit the list to County Council by late May. Then it’s up to council members to accept it and put it on the ballot or reject it.

Some of the nine council members want the bulk of the package dedicated to road upgrades.

Half of the requests — $336 million — are for new roads as well as paving dirt lanes and widening dozens of routes and intersections.

But the package may include a handful of projects unrelated to transportation.

Few road improvements are being sought in some of the county’s 15 communities.

For instance, officials in Cayce and West Columbia instead want improvements in water service, sewage and drainage while those in Irmo are mainly for a walking path along the lower Saluda River and school renovations.

The new tax would cost each county resident an average of about $110 through 2023, with purchases of groceries and prescription medicine exempt.

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