WIS Investigates: Lexington Co. penny sales tax ballot

LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - In a month, Lexington County voters will have to decide whether to implement a penny sales tax, but do voters understand the pages in the ballot for one question?

If voters say yes to the penny sales tax, the S.C. Department of Revenue projects within eight years, there could be as much as $290 million available for infrastructure projects. Supporters for the tax say it's a conservative estimate.

"Lexington County is one of the fastest growing counties in our state," said Tiffany Boyce Heitzman, co-chairman for Pennies for Pavement. "It's projected at another 23 percent growth in the next 10 years."

But penny tax profits alone wouldn't be a speedy solution to many of the road and infrastructure problems facing the county. The ballot asks voters to take things a step further.

"It will obviously not come in at one time," said Dennis Lambries, a professor at the Institute of Public Service and Policy Research at USC. "It will come in over a period of years. So they're also requesting authorization to issue over $150 million in bond to start those projects now. By approving that bond, they can go ahead and start 31 of those projects rather quickly."

Lambries was contacted by WIS to review the ballot as it is written. He does not live in Lexington County nor is he involved in any campaigning or advertising for the penny sales tax initiative.

Without the bond, the County says only six projects will be completed in the first three years.

Lambries explained another tax could come into play. If Lexington County is unable to pay back that $150-million bond within eight years, voting yes on the ballot means county property owners are agreeing to make up the difference on their property taxes.

"What they're saying is, if the revenue does not meet what we've spent and there's bonded indebtedness out there, we will, as a county, collect ad valorem taxes – property taxes," Lambries said.

An economic downturn could influence that, but at this point, it's impossible for county officials to tell.

Of the 92 projects to be funded if the penny sales tax is approved, 16 projects are in District 1; 12 projects are in District 2; 28 projects are in Districts 3 and 5; 15 projects are in Districts 4 and 8; nine projects are in Districts 6 and 7; and nine projects are for District 9.

Those projects are divided into five categories, with transportation projects making up the majority with 31 total in the County. The other categories are sidewalks, bike paths and greenways, with a total of 13 in the County; water and wastewater projects totaling 25 in the County; one stormwater project; and 22 community enhancement projects.

In the end, Lambries said the risk may outweigh the consequences.

"It allows them to be more competitive from an economic development perspective, and it also, through reading the list, appears to meet some of the immediate needs the citizens are concerned about in the areas they live," Lambries said.

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