Citizens continue fight against penny sales tax

By Nicole Johnson  bio | email | Twitter

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Charleston County voters have spoken and 63 percent of voters supported a penny sales tax referendum that would fund several building projects within the Charleston County School District.

The money would go towards 31 projects total, with an estimated cost of $450 million. Even though the vote passed, some are still speaking out in opposition.

One group wants an investigation into how the school district got this ballot question to pass. Former Charleston County School Board Constituent Henry Copeland says he and other concerned citizens will be filing a complaint with the State Ethics Commission against CCSD. Copeland says the district illegally used public resources to rally support for the penny sales tax, by providing certain documents to the public.

"That's company time. At the same time the website was created. Once the board makes a motion to do something, the district administration is actually required by law to step back, not step forward," Copeland said.

He says voters also felt threatened by the school district because in a document from the CCSD it said if the penny sales tax referendum didn't pass, homeowners would face a property tax increase.

"Most voters naturally reacted by saying I don't want property taxes increased, but if I have to take one I'll take the sales tax first. The information that was being distributed was not correct, as a result we feel the voters were intimidated using public funds," Copeland said.

District Superintendent Nancy McGinley says the school district did not start the "Yes4Schools" campaign to rally voter support, but the Chamber of Commerce lead the effort.

"The chamber business leaders generated the funding to put information out and every involvement we have had we have checked through with our attorneys," McGinley said.

The penny sales tax will raise $450 million over a six-year span for the proposed "2011-2016 Capital Building Plan." CCSD says only proposed projects would be funded by the tax, including: rebuilding seismically unsafe schools, seismic evaluations at schools, building a career tech academy at Wando, rebuilding some schools, new athletic facilities, acquiring land for future schools, and other projects.

McGinley said that if the $450 million in taxes is raised before the six-year mark, the school board could recommend taken away the penny sales tax early.

Despite the sales tax increase, Superintendent McGinley says the school board can still approve a property tax increase.

The group opposing this referendum says they will send their complaint to the state ethics commission Thursday.

The penny tax hike is set to go into effect in Charleston County in January.

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