Despite division on penny tax proposal, projects to move ahead - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Despite division on penny tax proposal, projects to move ahead

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

A plan to revamp oversight of Richland County’s Penny Transportation Tax hit a snag on Tuesday.

The proposal, introduced by Councilman Seth Rose, aimed to address issues raised partly from results of an investigation into the Penny Tax program by the state Department of Revenue.

In early December, DOR released a letter alleging “multiple instances of illegal activity” and raising questions of potential public corruption and fraud.

In response, Rose proposed changes that included repealing an ordinance dealing with “significant purchases” such as funding for small local businesses and a major upgrade of oversight authority for the Transportation Penny Advisory Committee (TPAC).

On Tuesday, the Richland County Council’s Ad Hoc Committee moved to table the significant purchase provision, while the remaining parts of the plan were sent for more study by budget writers and TPAC itself. One of the most important features of Rose’s proposal would have added far more oversight authority to the activities of TPAC. The committee’s actions have left Rose frustrated.

 “I have a sense of urgency to get some things done,” Rose said. “You were trying to play some type of parliamentary game to back this discussion up months when the Penny program is operating. Let's address the issues expeditiously. But welcome to what I have to deal with.”

Rose asked the Ad Hoc Committee to approve a review of the duties of two public relations firms hired to handle public information on the Penny Tax and possibly scale back those duties.

Committee members shot that idea down as well.

Councilman Norman Jackson says he agrees on a need for more oversight on the tax revenues, but he complained that his initial effort to add that oversight was voted down early last year. Jackson was later removed from the Ad Hoc committee along with Councilman Kelvin Washington, who ran into personal income tax problems as a result of the DOR probe.

Despite continued division among Richland County councilmembers on the need for structural changes in administration and oversight of Transportation Penny Sales Tax revenues, many projects funded by that money are moving ahead.

New bike lanes and sidewalks, intersection improvements, a new pedestrian bridge at Riverbanks Zoo, a pathway between Elmwood Avenue through the tunnel and Finlay Park continuing to the Vista, and more work at USC’s Innovista area are among the projects funded by the Penny Sales Tax plan.

“Looking at April for a completion date for the Greene Street project which is a couple of blocks right in front of Colonial Life up to Assembly,” said Chris Gossett, Richland County Deputy Director of Transportation. “That one is looking at being done in April. Later this summer, the Lincoln Tunnel project will be completed. There's already multiple resurfacing contracts, resurfacing county paved roads. Paving of dirt roads, there's already several contracts that have been completed. We've got 108 additional dirt roads that are currently in design.”

In total, the Penny Tax is expected to bring in more than a billion dollars into transportation related projects. Of that, about 30 percent of it goes to operation of the area’s bus system.

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