Lexington County voters closed their wallets Tuesday to a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax mainly for road improvements but opened the way to buy beer by the six-pack and wine by the bottle on Sundays.
The tax increase was crushed 2-1 despite support from community and business leaders who called it vital to keep pace with steady growth.
“Lexington County voters are willing to wait for something more palatable to come along,” said R. J. Shealy, consultant for Citizens Against the Tax Increase.
The tax was earmarked to pay for at least $268.1 million in improvements for roads, water, sewer, drainage and other projects. The increase, to 8 cents from 7 cents, would have lasted eight years, with groceries and prescription medicine exempt.
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Opponents attacked the plan as flawed. calling it a political Christmas spree for inclusion of a handful of walking paths, sports fields, civic centers and parks in communities where traffic isn’t a problem but facilities for families are lacking.
Tax supporters called for a fresh effort to develop a plan to reduce traffic congestion and make roads safer.
“We would hope that all elected public officials will work together to move forward with an alternative to fix our roads,” Lexington Penny for Pavement co-chairs Tiffany Boyce Heitzman and Earl McLeod said in a statement. “We simply cannot continue to kick the can down the road.”
That challenge was accepted by newly elected County Councilman Ned Tolar of West Columbia, an opponent of the plan that was defeated.
He wants to develop a scaled-back version devoted to roads and possibly a few water, sewer and drainage projects.
Projects in the new plan likely will differ from the one rejected at Tuesday’s ballot and may be only for a half-cent increase, he said.
“We need to go back to square one and come up with something that makes better sense,” Tolar said. “I can’t say what it will be.”
A focus on fixing roads “is the one thing that everybody seem to support,” Shealy said.
It was the first countywide ballot on a sales tax since 2004 when a penny-on-the-dollar increase for schools was approved in exchange for a property tax break.
The push for the new tax divided Republicans who dominate county politics, pitting business leaders against anti-tax and Tea Party elements.
On other ballot measures:
• Sunday sales of beer and wine by the package may start as soon as mid-November in some stores.
State revenue officials must review applications – a process that generally takes a week or so – once election officials finish rechecking the ballot outcome in a few days.
“Certainly, retailers will be applying as quickly as possible,” said Tony Denny of the South Carolina Retail Association. “They’ll be ready to roll.”
Approval of the sales countywide supersedes a similar ballot in Cayce that city officials held as a backup.
• Chapin Mayor Skip Wilson won a showdown with rebellious Town Council members as a proposal to dilute his power lost. The outcome is a message for town leaders to end conflict, he said.
“I am committed to doing my part to work with everyone,” Wilson said.
A similar change was rejected in 2000.