By Brian Troutman
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Charleston County Council members are scrambling over a proposed half-cent transportation sales tax increase – at least for now.
Council has been asked to review the proposal at the upcoming meeting on July 19 in hopes that a referendum will be placed on the ballot for November's general election. In a memo from deputy clerk Kristen L. Salisbury to members of the county council finance committee, it was argued the increase would be needed to complete major transportation projects still in need of funding.
Council vice chairman Elliott Summey, who also serves as CARTA's board chairman, supports the proposal and is hopeful it can get approved and delivered to the Charleston County Election Commission by August 15 – the deadline to get on the ballot for the November election. To be approved, the increase would need to be in the form of an ordinance and pass three readings.
Summey argues the increase is not just about completing current projects, but it's about developing new projects important to the community, growing Charleston County commercially and bringing more jobs. He said he has been working on the proposal for the last 90 days. He's fueled by the success of current infrastructure projects that have brought hundreds of jobs to the area and played a role in new companies locating and/or current companies expanding in Charleston County.
"I'm fully in support of continuing to increase our quality of life in Charleston County by decreasing our traffic congestion through infrastructure and mass transit," Summey said. "…You can raise property taxes and hurt the taxpayers, or you can do a sales tax."
Is he asking you to pay an extra half-penny of sales tax when you go to your local electronics store to make a purchase? Definitely. He says it's a small added cost that would not only be spread among those living and shopping in Charleston but also the millions of tourists to Charleston every year.
"If we are going to do this, we have to take care of our own – maintaining our roads, building better roads, widening our roads and pushing mass transit," Summey said. "More people want to come to and live in Charleston every day. That is not going to stop."
In reference to maintaining roads a building better roads, Summey believes the Charleston area is too small to have the traffic problems that commuters face each day. He cited several intersections he describes as "nightmares." He said he hopes the funds can be used to make needed road improvements on Johns Island, improve the intersection of I-26 and I-526 and resolve several issues at intersections along International Boulevard that he says the South Carolina Department of Transportation has rated as failing.
Meanwhile, council member Herbert Sass of Mount Pleasant believes any talk of potential tax increase may not be a good idea. He admitted Saturday that he hadn't had a chance to completely review the proposal, but knew it was an attempt to complete "a whole lot in a little bit of time."
"There's a lot of moving parts," he said. "…I need to look hard at what's in it."
Sass said he can't imagine anyone wanting to have a tax increase right now, not knowing what the financial outlook will be for the end of this year.
In the memo from the clerk's office it was shared that the proposed half-penny increase would have a $1.35 billion impact over a 25-year period.
Council chairman Teddie Pryor could not be reached for comment.