Thursday, March 7, 2013
Local officials take pride in Dorchester County voters who “stepped up” and approved a transportation sales tax to improve roads.
It’s a point often mentioned at ceremonies and meetings, that taxpayers here are helping pay for improvements to state roads – like Dorchester Road and Bacons Bridge Road – rather than wait for the state to find the money.
But this week the county learned the state has found some money – it intends to take back 20 percent of the Guideshare enhancement funds allocated to each county and use them for its own projects.
“They’re taking money they had nothing to do with,” said Councilman Larry Hargett, who serves on the Charleston Area Transportation Study, or CHATS.
“They’re [local governments] already spending money on state roads. I don’t think we should penalize them by taking money away,” said Jim Rozier, the highway commission for the First Congressional District, who voted against the proposal.
The county receives between $200,000 and $300,000 annually, and it has used that money on sidewalks on Patriot Boulevard and leading to Beech Hill Elementary School, among other projects, Hargett said.
The Guideshare money comes from the federal government and can be used on a wide range of activities, including construction, maintenance, multimodal and planning.
The money is filtered through the state, which allocates it to Metropolitan Planning Organizations – that’s CHATS in the Charleston area – and Councils of Government based on population and vehicle miles travelled.
“We don’t like it. Nobody likes it,” Hargett said of the S.C. DOT commission decision to keep back some of the funding.
Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties have all passed transportation sales taxes to help pay for road repairs, but counties elsewhere, particularly in the Upstate, have failed to follow suit, he said.
“It’s always been a rift between them and us,” he said.
Council voted Monday to have Chairman Bill Hearn write a letter requesting this area be exempted from the new policy.
The three local council chairmen and some mayors are also writing letters, Hargett said.
John Edwards, chairman of the S.C. DOT Commission, said he doesn’t expect any exemptions.
He doesn’t think this policy is a disincentive for counties to spend their own money on state roads, he said.
According to the S.C. Department of Revenue, the three counties here are the only ones in the state to have a sales tax specifically for transportation.
Some counties have capital projects sales tax that might cover some road-related items. Sumter County, for example, has a capital projects sales tax that is paying for the reconfiguration of dangerous intersections.
Dorchester County’s tax, however, goes far beyond fixing a few intersections. The plan includes resurfacing roads, paving dirt roads, widening major thoroughfares and, eventually, building the final phase of the Berlin G. Myers Parkway.
The policy of holding back 20 percent is for one year only, but Rozier said he’s concerned about the potential for this policy to be extended and possibly expanded.
“I want to encourage us not to do that,” he said.