Richland Co. Councilman hoping to fix embattled penny tax

Richland Co. Councilman hoping to fix embattled penny tax

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - It was a shocking letter to Richland County Councilman Seth Rose.

"I was deeply concerned when I first saw the letter, and I immediately started looking at ways to take the bull by the horns," said Rose.
He's talking about this letter that was sent from the South Carolina Department of Revenue (DOR) to Richland County in early December. In it, the DOR says it discovered discrepancies and possible illegal activity related to the county's penny tax for transportation projects.

It's an audit that Rose said shakes public confidence in the county.

"There's no question. My trust in the program's been shaken after reading the letter," he said.

So Rose has e-mailed three motions to the county clerk. One would change the way council approves purchase orders related to the penny tax. Another would payback funds spent from the penny tax account on an initiative to involve more small businesses in the process. Rose said he does believe it's still important to recruit small businesses to be involved in projects, however, he said money spent doing that should come from the General Fund and benefit all projects, including those outside the purview of the transportation penny tax.

"Penny revenues should only go to moving dirt, repaving roads, funding the bus system, greenways, and walkways," Rose said. "That's where the penny revenue should go to."

Finally, and most notably, Rose's plan calls for getting regular citizens more involved in oversight. It would revamp a citizens' advisory committee and give it more teeth. Members would be able to flag issues they discover, the committee would prepare audits, and its chairman would be made an ex-officio member of the county council's Transportation Ad-Hoc committee, which is comprised of just a select group of council members now.

"Being an ex-officio member would allow the chairperson to not only have a vote on a recommendation that comes out from there, but it would also allow them to be in all conversations and privileged to all documents," said Rose.

The transportation penny tax already has a citizen-based advisory committee, but Hayes Mizell said it isn't working. Mizell would know, since he's the chairman of that committee, which is known as the Transportation Penny Advisory Committee (TPAC).

"At present, whatever we have to say doesn't carry much weight," he told WIS. "The members of the TPAC have been very disappointed that their advice is not sought before decisions are made and that it has very little authority and not much responsibility."

Mizell said his committee doesn't have a staff, an office, or even a phone and serves a "symbolic" role. It's the reason he's supporting Rose's motions.

"I think it's a very constructive, positive motion, and I hope county council will give it serious consideration," he said.
Councilman Rose does expect pushback after his motions are placed on next week's agenda.

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