If you build it, especially better roads, they will come – at least that’s what many Batesburg-Leesville leaders say.
And with the prospect that a countywide sales tax increase would fund those roads, those leaders hope the visitors they want to come won’t be waiting in the backed-up traffic residents are all too familiar with.
“I know how it is going to affect Batesburg-Leesville; I sit in that traffic every day,” said Mike Taylor, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, part of the Penny for Pavement Coalition supporting the proposed increase.
The penny-on-the-dollar sales tax is aimed at addressing the demand for better roads and infrastructure, paying for $268.1 million in road improvements and other projects. The measure goes before Lexington County voters Nov. 4.
Some residents remain skeptical and say the increase is yet another example of County Council’s taking money from people rather than cutting spending. They’ve been trying to make the case that while the road improvements are needed, the money should come from cuts elsewhere, not from raising the sales tax.
“I would like to see council cut pennies to be progressive before adding them,” said Mundina O’Driscoll, playing off the county’s Penny for Progress theme. O’Driscoll, who runs Danny O’Driscoll and Wildlife Art, has been trying to rally friends to oppose the measure.
Batesburg-Leesville’s leaders have long hoped their town, once a bustling commercial gateway to South Carolina’s peach-producing “ridge,” could attract more visitors.
The Chamber of Commerce touts the schools, golf courses and proximity to Lake Murray. But the leaders say bad roads and dangerous intersections keep visitors away. They say freeing up congested intersections isn’t all that’s needed but is a necessary first step.
Another step is the town’s pursuit of a $500,000 federal grant, matched with $100,000 in county money, to build sidewalks along S.C. 23, Mayor Rita Crapps said. The sales tax increase, if passed, would provide $600,000 to help finish the project.
“There is a lot of appeal to be had for a community that has lots of sidewalks and streetscaping,” Crapps said.
For Batesburg-Leesville, the major improvements are at two intersections: Pine and Church streets and Church and Mitchell streets. Both are busy, with narrow turning lanes – and numerous traffic accidents.
“It’s gotten very serious. We desperately need this,” the chamber’s Taylor said. Midlands Reality Check, an affiliate of the Urban Land Institute that annually gathers over 300 regional leaders to evaluate the region’s growth, projects at least 450,000 new residents in the Lexington County area by 2040.
Irene Dumas Tyson, the group’s co-chair and planning director at The Boudreaux Group, a Columbia architectural and planning firm, said growth could have a domino effect in Batesburg-Leesville as more people look for places to live or work.
Crapps said that if town of 5,421 people is to grow in the next 15 years, the work has to begin now.
But opponents like O’Driscoll say there have to be other ways, and she thinks calling it a “penny” is misleading.
“It is not just a penny, but a penny on everything I buy, which amounts to much more in the long run,” she said.
She and Bill Krecker, one of the other opposition leaders in town, have met with Larry Brigham, the area’s county councilman-elect, to discuss his stance on spending cuts when he takes office in January.
“I’m assuming the money has been allocated properly, but it could be that a few dollars could be tweaked here and there,” said Brigham, whose upset of incumbent Frank Townsend was attributed in part to anti-tax sentiment. But Brigham said he doesn’t yet know enough specifics.