The proposed penny-on-the-dollar sales tax in Lexington County is forcing some Chapin residents to take a hard look at their town.
Some see the tax as an opportunity to improve inadequate infrastructure and try to keep Chapin’s small-town charm while accommodating the area’s booming population. Others see it as a line in the sand, an opportunity to take a stand against taxation.
The proposed sales tax is aimed at addressing the demand for better roads and infrastructure, paying for $268.1 million in road improvements and other projects.
Chapin’s population has doubled to almost 1,500 during the past 14 years as suburbia, attracted by nearby Lake Murray, has spread to the area about 25 miles northwest of downtown Columbia. Thousands more live just outside the town’s borders.
Change in Chapin is inevitable, said Jerry Mitchell, director of the Center for Excellence for Geographic Research at the University of South Carolina.
“This is part of something they can’t control,” Mitchell said. “It’s a double-edged sword; they want to be an attractive area, but things are going to change.”
Patricia Lewandowski, a retired teacher who lives on the lake, can trace her ancestry back to the German Lutheran settlers of what was then Dutch Fork. Her father, Addison Bostain Jr., co-authored a book on Chapin’s first 100 years.
And for Lewandowski, Columbia Avenue, the town’s gateway to Interstate 26 that increasingly is choked with traffic, symbolizes Chapin’s challenges. If the tax increase passes, almost $27 million would be spent to widen the road to five lanes from two.
“It needs to be done,” Lewandowski said. “The traffic is so bad right now; this is the right thing for Chapin.”
But real estate agent Brandon Liles says enough is enough when it comes to taxation: “Enough people are hurting as it is. How can we afford another tax?”
Liles grew up in nearby Irmo and remembers when Harbison Boulevard, now home to one of the Midlands’ biggest shopping areas, was a field. He sees Chapin’s growth as an opportunity to improve infrastructure but thinks the town is going about it the wrong way.
Chapin, with its $1.4 million yearly budget, should make the same kinds of decisions residents have to in tough times, Liles said, and “if the town really wants to improve the roads, they should find somewhere in the budget where they can cut back.”
“You’re asking the voters to impose a tax on themselves when we are already paying taxes to maintain our infrastructure,” Liles said. “I don’t really understand how anybody can be for that philosophically.”
Jeremy Martin, former Chamber of Commerce chairman, says Chapin can take steps like supporting the sales tax increase to adjust to change, or be run over.
“Change is coming,” Martin said. “We need to make plans for it.”
This article was produced as part of this semester’s J-471 Intermediate Reporting & Production class at the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications.