The push for a 2016 referendum on a penny sales tax increase for road improvements in Lexington Couunty got off to a bumpy start Tuesday.
A divided County Council created a six-member advisory panel that will recommend a package of projects the tax would finance.
That step was approved 7-2 as some council members don’t like asking for higher taxes for road repairs.
“We need to look at other ways to solve this problem prior to rushing into this,” Councilman Ned Tolar of West Columbia said.
Other council members say the penny tax is the only way to assure long-wanted improvements happen.
“We’re giving our taxpayer the opportunity to get our roads fixed,” Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat of Irmo said.
Tolar joined Councilman Bobby Keisler of Red Bank in wanting to wait and see if the Legislature will settle on a fuel tax hike that will produce more road revenue.
It’s estimated the penny tax would produce $35 million annually during an eight-year span before it expires unless renewed by voters. That’s five times the extra income the county might gain from a higher state fuel tax.
Council members can’t dictate what projects will be proposed by the panel, whose members are likely to be named by Jan. 1.
But council members have made it clear the package must be earmarked totally for roads instead of other uses such as parks, paths, drainage and libraries to gain their agreement for a referendum in November 2016.
Some of the projects chosen are expected to come from a list developed for an unsuccessful bid for the tax in 2014.
But part of the package might be devoted to repairing some of the 146 roads damaged by recent floods.
Fixing them might cost as much as to $7 million, County Public Works Director WrennBarrett told council members.
Making those repairs “is not going to be from lack of effort,” Councilman Todd Cullum of Cayce said. “It’s going to be from lack of money.”
If adopted, the county sales tax would go from 7 to 8 cents per dollar of purchase. Groceries and prescription medicine would be exempt.
Anti-tax forces are lining up in opposition, warning that the projects chosen must focus on easing congestion and increasing safety.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483