Council considers new motor user fee for road maintenance

County officials are considering a $25 tax on vehicles.

In the future, vehicle owners registered in Dorchester County may be taxed with an additional $25 annually to help pay for road maintenance.

Dorchester would be the only county in the Tri-county to impose such a fee. Neither Berkeley nor Charleston counties have a similar one.

County Council is considering the motor vehicle user fee as a way to cover costs of repairs for roads inside and outside of the county’s incorporated areas, said County Spokesperson Tiffany Norton. However, none of the fee’s revenue would go to the state or be used to pay for state-owned roads inside the county.

According to County Administrator Jason Ward, there are about 143,000 registered vehicles in the county, and the fee, if implemented, would generate more than $3.5 million a year.

“This is an avenue to study and see if it makes sense for our county,” said Councilman Jay Byars.

Discussion on the issue first surfaced publicly during the council’s meeting July 29 in St. George; first reading of the ordinance passed, in title only, by a vote of 5-2, with Councilmen Larry Hargett and Bill Hearn opposed.

“It’s a new tax to our citizens,” he said. “I understand what we’re trying to do; I just don’t like the way we’re doing it.”

Hearn also explained why he voted against the fee.

“I didn’t feel the timing was right, considering the DD2 budget increase request and the likelihood of putting the two referendum items for parks and recreation on the ballot in November,” he said.

The referendums together total $68 million and would also fund new county libraries, but it would be up to taxpayers to decide, in the voting booth, if they want to foot the bill. If council approves Dorchester District Two’s request for more funding, property taxes on businesses and rental homes could go up another 4.2 mills.

During the meeting, Hargett suggested utilizing more County Transportation Committee (CTC) funds for road work; however, according to other county leaders, the CTC doesn’t maintain a large enough budget to pump out more money for road projects.

“Our CTC committee has been telling us for over 10 years they don’t have enough funds to address the repair needs, especially on county roads,” Byars said. “The purpose is to fix problems, and CTC funding has never been enough so we continue to fall behind. That just doesn’t make sense to continue.”

Also, the state mandates at least 25 percent of CTC funds cover state road repairs in the county, Byars said.

To become law, the fee ordinance would require a public hearing and council’s approval of two more readings. Council has currently referred the item to the Public Works Committee to further study it and make a recommendation.

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