The push for a 2016 referendum on a penny sales tax increase for road improvements has slowed as Lexington County officials await an estimate on upkeep for 1,200 miles of routes.
County public works officials are developing a package of repairs needed on 650 miles of dirt roads and 550 miles of paved streets they maintain, some of which could wind up in a new tax plan submitted to voters.
That package is expected to be sent to County Council later this fall as its nine members decide whether to pursue the referendum.
Moving forward with a referendum devoted solely to roads “is still on (our) radar,” Councilman Todd Cullum of Cayce said. “There’s a lot of preliminary work that has to be put in place.”
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It is estimated a sales tax increase from 7 cents to 8 cents on the dollar county wide would raise nearly $300 million during the eight years it would last before coming up for renewal. The tax increase wouldn’t apply to groceries and prescription medicine.
This would be the county’s second attempt to win approval of a tax county leaders say is the only way to ease traffic congestion created by steady growth.
A plan earmarked mostly for roads lost at the polls by a margin of 2-1 last year after complaints about inclusion of water and sewage projects, walking paths, sports fields, civic centers and parks.
“It was a mistake to add those other projects,” Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat of Irmo said. “This time, it should be only roads.”
The choice of projects for a new referendum rests with an advisory panel. But council members can stop a referendum from happening if they don’t like the package proposed.
Making the new tax plan all for roads is unlikely to quiet anti-tax forces. Leaders of some groups are warning the projects should focus on moving traffic on main commuter routes instead of spreading out improvements across the 758-square-mile county.
Their opposition failed to prevent the recent adoption of a tax of 2 cents on the dollar on restaurant dining, take-out meals and some snacks in the town of Lexington for three road projects.
Some members of the all-Republican council want to wait on a referendum until it’s clear if the Legislature will adopt a fuel tax hike next spring that could provide more money for road repairs, although much less than the penny tax hike would. Currently, the county receives $4.1 million a year for local roads.
“If we sit back and let that play out, we’ll have a better picture,” Councilman Ned Tolar of West Columbia said. “We may not need the penny tax.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483