Dorchester County votes "yes" to $43 million referendum

The fate of any future library facilities and park properties in Dorchester County now officially lies in the hands of voters.

Dorchester County Council members, at their meeting Monday in St. George, approved placing two separate bond referendums on the ballot in November to fund new construction of libraries and parks.

While there had been some chatter from community members that maybe the referendums should hold until 2020, during a presidential election year, in the end county officials agreed it best to pose the questions to residents sooner rather than later.

In 2016, by a 60 percent vote county residents approved a $43 million “quality of life” referendum to fund parks and libraries. The issues were combined into one question that the South Carolina Supreme Court deemed illegal.

The lawsuit questioning the 2016 referendum’s constitutionality was initially filed in October 2016, a month before the election. The suit reached the Supreme Court in October 2018, and the ruling, which reversed the circuit court’s ruling, was issued this past May.

Parks and recreation

According to the parks and recreation referendum ordinance council approved on Monday for the fall ballot, taxpayers, if they so choose, would provide $38 million to help construct multiple parks, enhance trails and possibly allow the county to purchase additional waterfront acreage along the Ashley River; the extra acreage would also be used for park development and conserve valuable scenic property, county officials have said.

“It is exciting for me that the construction funding for these amenities could be available in just a few months,” said Eric Davis, the county’s Parks and Recreation director.

The 2016 referendum provided just $13 million for parks and recreation. County officials said the need to up the bond amount this time around was due to adding more park development to the plan and account for the rising cost of construction.

Libraries

The cost of funding libraries has remained the same from the former referendum to the current one. Both provided $30 million, and according to Robert Antill, director of Dorchester County Library System, the money will go to build three new branches across the county, if voters pass the referendum.

The library plan’s proposed branches include one each in North Charleston, Ridgeville and Summerville—where the current facility experiences an overcrowded parking lot nearly daily.

“These facilities, coupled with the headquarters library in St. George, strategically place the library branches throughout the county, affecting many more residents,” Antill said. “The library is so important…as a center for reading and information for all of the residents of Dorchester County.”

While the funding amount hasn’t changed from one referendum to the next, the reassessed library plan has expanded from an initial commitment to build just two new libraries—one in Summerville and North Charleston.

“The entire (library) staff and Board of Trustees believe that ‘libraries equal strong communities,’” Antill said.

According to Antill, the library is also planning to expand on its workforce development partnerships and has already used a $25,000 federal grant toward the establishment of a STEAM lab at Summerville Elementary School. STEAM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.” The lab will debut next month and came about through a partnership with the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce.

According to Councilman Jay Byars, both parks and libraries are amenities he’s heard community members desire for years and believes both referendums will pass.

“I’ve been listening to my constituents since 2010,” Byars said. “Most have told me clearly…these are the things that they want in their community. …County Council is giving them the opportunity to express their voice this November. We have an opportunity to do some amazing things to fundamentally change Dorchester County for the better.”

Election Day is Nov. 5.

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