County Council approves third and final reading of Capital Project Sales Tax IV ordinance

August 1, 2018

Aiken County Council approved the third and final reading of an ordinance Tuesday that authorizes a referendum in November for Capital Project Sales Tax IV and finalizes the language in the ballot question.

The vote was 7-1 during a special meeting of the panel at the Aiken County Government Center.

But before it was taken, two councilmen expressed their dissatisfaction about how the panel decided to allocate the revenues the county will receive if Sales Tax IV is approved in November’s countywide vote.

Both Chuck Smith and Sandy Haskell believe their districts, which include parts of North Augusta, didn’t get a fair share of the money for projects that would directly benefit them.

The councilmen also are upset that a $2.5 million allocation for gateway corridor improvements in the North Augusta area wasn’t included on the final list of projects County Council wants to fund.

Haskell voted for the Sales Tax IV ordinance, and Smith cast the lone vote against it.

“I cannot support it given the fact that I think that we’ve been dealt a terrible hand by the members of this Council in how this money has been allocated,” Smith said. “It is almost like we have been considered a stepchild in the allocation of these resources.”

Said Haskell: “There are a lot of good things in this sales tax that benefit the county. I am quite disappointed in how this whole thing turned out, but I am going to support it. I guess sometimes you have to hold your nose and vote yes.”

Prior to making its decision to approve the Sales Tax IV ordinance’s third reading, County Council voted unanimously to approve changes to the ballot question language recommended by Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian and Aiken County Attorney Jim Holly.

Sales Tax IV is expected to generate approximately $163 million. That money will be divided among the county, the City of Aiken, the City of North Augusta and eight small municipalities: Burnettown, Jackson, Monetta, New Ellenton, Perry, Salley, Wagener and Windsor.

Passing another iteration of the Capital Project Sales Tax “is extremely important for Aiken County,” said Council Chairman Gary Bunker after the meeting.

Previous sales taxes, he continued, have helped the county “keep the property tax rates at a relatively stable level” because the revenues from them have covered “all the capital expenditures for the county.”

If county residents don’t approve Sales Tax IV, “we would need to raise property taxes for ambulances,” Bunker said. “We would need to raise property taxes for police cars. We would need to raise property taxes for road paving and resurfacing and any sort of solution to Whiskey Road’s problems.”

Addressing the concerns about Sales Tax IV voiced by Smith and Haskell, Bunker said, “I think the key thing to remember about the ballot (for Sales Tax IV) is that it’s not about the distribution by the county alone (for its projects). It’s also about the distribution (of the revenues) among the county and the municipalities. There will be about $163 million of which the City of North Augusta is going to get nearly $31 million. Now if you do the math, that means the City of North Augusta is going to get about 19 percent of the revenues even though their population is something on the order of 13 percent or 14 percent of Aiken County’s population (based on the 2010 Census). So overall, North Augusta will come out ahead on this.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, County Council approved a resolution that authorizes the County to proceed with a plan to relocate a portion of Dragon Lair Road that is in the Sage Mill Industrial Park in Graniteville.

In addition, County Council approved a resolution to accept a $250,000 grant from the South Carolina Department of Commerce for Project Rhapsody, a proposed economic development initiative in Sage Mill.

County Council’s vice chairman, Andrew Siders, was not at the meeting because of a “work commitment,” Bunker said.

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