The Capital Initiative commission
County delays CPST commission appointments.
Laurens County Council has decided not to move forward on appointing a fourth, fifth and sixth member to the Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission, until a second and third member are appointed. The first member appointed was Walter Hughes III, representing the City of Clinton.
The City of Laurens has not named a member. These two members must appoint the third, and that person must live in Fountain Inn or Gray Court Owings, or Cross Hill or Waterloo. After receiving legal advice about the commission in a closed session that lasted 1 and ½ hours (three other matters also were discussed), Council Chairman Dr. Pitts announced the action.
“We will not select three members until the municipalities name the third member. We have nominations that are under consideration,” he said.
That way, Pitts said, the commission could reflect racial and gender equity.
The lack of action didn’t stop council members were weighing in on questions about The Capital Initiative.
“If they build a $10 million library in Clinton, how does that benefit my side of the county?” Council Vice-chairman Joe Wood said.
“If they come up with some off-the-wall stuff that’s not on our wish list, is that the law?” Fountain Inn representative Kemp Younts said.
“It’s for the commission to determine,” responded County Attorney Sandy Cruickshanks.
The SC Department of Revenue estimates that if Laurens County voters approve The Capital Initiative – an additional 1-cent sales tax – the money generated over the life span of the tax, 8 years, will be $50 million.
“We don’t need to push the envelop to the end,” Council Chairman Dr. David Pitts said.
He said Greenwood County voters were “sold” on an $88 million figure, only to find that estimates now are $20 million less. Again, in Laurens County’s case, how much of the $50 million will be designated for spending and offered to the voters for approval is a matter of consideration for the full 6-member Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission, once it’s appointed.
“The Final 6 will have an orientation meeting. Everything generated at the public interest meeting will be turned over to them, and final control will be handed to the commission. They will take over,” Pitts said.
All projects must be vetted and must include a relatively firm dollar figure – not estimates, Cruickshanks said. Anyone can offer a project for consideration to the commission.
“One of my biggest fears,” Pitts said, “is the tax will not generate enough money.” He said the Department of Revenue made its most recent projections for what an additional penny sales tax will generate in Laurens County in a letter.
The letter is “a forecast, it’s what the Department of Revenue projects,” Pitts said. If collections come up short, the projects designated with a lower priority won’t get built; the tax can be renewed with another public vote. The council has been told some neighboring counties are on their 2nd and 3rd rounds of a capital projects sales tax (it cannot be spent for salaries).
An advantage to The Capital Initiative is that everyone buying anything anywhere in Laurens County pays the tax (some exemptions).
A disadvantage is in Clinton, where there are county and local sales/hospitality taxes in addition to the state sales tax, some purchases would cost an additional 10 cents on the dollar. Tourists would pay it, sure, but so would city residents.
Wood said voters need to look at it like the Local Option Sales Tax, most of which provides property tax relief. The county and municipalities, by state law, can keep 29% of the money generated as an “administrative fee”. Wood said by his calculations the Laurens County LOST is not generating all the money it should for county government, through the 29%; he said municipalities are taking some of the county’s money, in addition to their own 29%.
By his calculations that amounts to $840,000 a year – “where is it going?” Wood said.
“What good is it for the county to write an ordinance (authorizing the Local Option Sales Tax) if the state can override it” by authorizing the 29% fee, Wood said.
The Capital Projects Sales Tax sunsets in 8 years, but the Local Option Sales Tax – in effect locally since 1998 – never goes away. A LOST ordinance can be repealed by a county council or municipal council vote.