YOUR COUNTY GOVERNMENT -- THE CAPITAL INITIATIVE & MONEY FOR ROAD REPAIRS
“Capital Initiative” meetings will ensure
“everybody on the same page” - County
Laurens County Council facilitated a meeting last Tuesday, and will facilitate another meeting Sept. 5, to be sure that “everybody is on the same page” with the upcoming Capital Initiative.
The initiative is a 1-cent increase in the local sales tax to fund capital projects. How the tax is levied and the money is spent is governed by 1997 Act No. 138, Section 3, effective July 1, 1997 -- the “Capital Project Sales Tax Act.”
It is levied for 8 years, if successfully passed by county voters, and can be renewed with a new set of projects and another successful vote.
Several area counties are one their second and third renewal of the Capital Project Sales Tax. Some concern has been expressed that, in some areas of Laurens County, this tax would make the local sales tax 10-cents on every dollar spent by consumers. That includes state and local sales taxes and hospitality-accommodations sales taxes.
However, the purpose of last Tuesday’s meeting was not to debate the tax. Rather, Laurens County Council Chairman Dr. David Pitts wanted to start the process of all county municipalities, and anyone else interested in proposing a sale-tax-funded project, receiving the proper information about how the process will work.
A lot needs to be done between now and the November 2020 General Election. A 6-member commission to write the ballot question will be appointed - the proposed appointees are due to the county government by Oct. 15.
“This will be a transparent and open process,” Pitts said. “We want to be sure we are singing the same verse to the same song. No county money or county work time will be be spent on this project - the voters will decide.”
Pitts said he wanted everyone to know if this tax passes in 2020, there will be no reduction in county property taxes. Another Local Option Sales Tax provides for that tax relief (after 29% that the county is entitled to keep as a processing fee).
“I want to thank each of you for your interest in the Capital Sales Tax,” Pitts said.
In making appointments to the 6-member study commission, “the county council drives this train,” County Attorney Sandy Cruickshanks said. “There will be no elected officials on the commission. There should be people who understand Laurens County.”
Three people will be appointed by the Laurens County Council. One each will be appointed by the City Councils of Laurens and Clinton. One will be appointed based on a formula taking into account the other municipalities in Laurens County.
The commission will decide which projects will be done with the estimated $44 million that the sales tax will generate over the next 8 years. These projects will be vetted by sub-committees: Economic Development, Infrastructure, Parks/Recreation, Public Safety and Quality of Life.
Separate organizations will raise money and campaign to sway the voters - pro or con.
The County’s only role, Cruickshanks said, will be “an education process not a promotional process.”
The question will be on the November 2020 ballot - if successful, the tax will be implemented and levied starting in May, 2021.
The tax sunsets in 8 years.
If the vote is successful, the county could borrow all the money from a bank, and pay it back as the tax revenues are collected. Cruickshanks said there must be “hard numbers” of project costs for each construction item considered by the voters.
State law says these projects can be paid by the Capital Projects Sales Tax:
- highways, roads, streets, bridges, and public parking garages and related facilities;
- courthouses, administration buildings, civic centers, hospitals, emergency medical facilities, police stations, fire stations, jails, correctional facilities, detention facilities, libraries, coliseums, educational facilities under the direction of an area commission for technical education, or any combination of these projects;
- cultural, recreational, or historic facilities, or any combination of these facilities;
- water, sewer, or water and sewer projects;
- flood control projects and storm water management facilities;
- beach access and beach renourishment;
- dredging, dewatering, and constructing spoil sites, disposing of spoil materials, and other matters directly related to the act of dredging;
- jointly operated projects of the county, a municipality, special purpose district, and school district, or any combination of those entities, for the projects delineated in subitems (a) through (g) of this item;
- any combination of these projects described in subitems (a) through (h) of this item.
Laurens County will not have a “road damage” ordinance
County council has killed on the second of three readings an ordinance that would have required loggers to post a bond that could be used to repair road damage.
State organizations representing loggers and forestry pushed back on the ordinance that passed first reading last month. They said some of its provisions violate the state’s “right to forestry” laws.
No Laurens County Council member proposed a motion to pass the ordinance on second reading - so it died at the Aug. 13 meeting.
Going forward, County Attorney Sandy Cruickshanks was authorized to continue discussions with these groups to possibly propose an acceptable ordinance. The county originally proposed the bond to give the Department of Public Works a way to repay itself if a logger damages a roadway or a road shoulder, and the county pays to have it repaired.
“We are on the same page,” Cruickshanks said of the county and state forestry association and timber growers association. “It’s just some of the wording.”
Cruickshanks said the council could pass the proposed ordinance on second reading, and he would bring back a revised ordinance on third reading. Instead, the 6-member council killed the ordinance with inaction (all members were present, one seat is vacant and will be filled by Brown Patterson, of Laurens, after a September special election).
Council Vice-chairman Joe Wood said the security bond might have been a burden on some loggers and “we do not want to hurt the working people, we just want them to pay for damages.”
Cruickshanks said a new ordinance, if one is drafted, would not be “directed at anybody, only those who tear up roads and ditches - it only takes one bad egg.”
Council was told the timber and forestry industries have “best practices” for wood producers, and already monitor these practices throughout the state.
In other business, the council heard a report from Clerk of Court Lynn Lancaster about the office’s functions and the fees and fines it collects. Among other money, the clerk’s office last year collected $5.7 million in state-regulated child support, of which the county is appropriated 5% as a collection fee. Lancaster said “e-filing” of litigation has reduced the amount of paper and mail the office has to handle, and the number of civil lawsuits handled by the court is reduced by state-required mediation.
The council heard an I-385 Corridor study proposal from Thomas & Hutton engineers focusing on the Hwy 14 interchange, pressured by the industrial development of ZF Transmissions and the Owings Industrial Park. To relieve the pressure, one proposal will be constructing a new interchange at Friendship Church Road - at a federal-state cost of $57 million.
The County and Laurens County Development Corporation are moving ahead to bring the transportation needs to the proper federal, regional and state agencies for possible funding.
Council gave 3rd and final reading to a Hunter Industrial Park ordinance to facilitate the new Muffin Mam plant, and gave 2nd reading to a County Bond Ordinance ($7 million for new projects and re-financing an older bond). Council appointed Mary DeShields and Janice Robinson to the GLEAMNS Board (public and private sectors). Council approved pay classifications and job descriptions for a Parks Department grounds supervisor and a maintenance supervisor.
Council received a legal briefing in executive session.
(The next Laurens County Council meeting will be Tuesday, Aug. 27, 5:30 pm in the council chambers, second floor of the historic courthouse in downtown Laurens. There is a time set aside of public comments; register at the podium before the meeting starts.)