Charleston County voters to decide on possible sales tax increase

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Charleston County residents will decide Tuesday whether they want to fix some of their traffic issues by increasing the sales tax.

Voters who head to the polls will find a ballot question asking them if they want to approve a half-cent sales tax increase for the county.

Currently, Charleston County residents pay 8.5% in sales tax for things like clothes, shoes, and electronics. Now voters will decide whether to round that number to 9 to help with some of the county's major issues.

"There's a sense of purpose and critical need in our community to improve the roadway and public transit infrastructure in Charleston," said City of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg.

The increase, expected to raise $2 billion, would cover improvements in the greater Charleston area.

Projects include widening Glenn McConnell Parkway, Dorchester Road, and Highway 41.

"It will be used responsibly and it will be put on priority projects to help alleviate some of the traffic situations we have," said Representative Chip Limehouse, a supporter of the referendum.

Not everyone agrees though.

The Coastal Conservation League issued a statement this week saying residents should vote no on the referendum.

"What we have seen in recent weeks and months is that Charleston County Council has not proven to us that there is level of accountability to maintain a commitment to a list of projects," said Jason Crowley, a project manager with the group.

The group supports a number of projects on the table that would help with capacity improvements, advocate for more funding to improve CARTA, fund a Bus Rapid Transit route along the I-26 corridor, and protect open space in our rural areas.

However, they feel residents should hold off on saying yes.

"There needs to be two more years until the 2018 mid-term election to get the language right on a new referendum that would ensure the taxpayers that their money would be going to improving their quality of life that County Council can be held accountable to," Crowley said.

Charleston County council approved the referendum question in August allowing residents the chance to vote on the issue at the polls.

In September, the County council voted in favor of using up to a half a million dollars from the half-cent sales tax fund to go towards completing the permitting process for the completion of I-526, a project the Coastal Conservation League strongly opposes.

"Certain Charleston County Councilmembers lied to us and all of you," stated Natalie Olson, with the Coastal Conservation League, Monday. "Through shady backroom deals and bait-and-switch tactics, certain elected officials began changing the project list that would be funded by the half-cent sales tax before the ink even dried on the ordinance."

Last week Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg withdrew a proposal to the State Infrastructure Bank Board that would have linked the Mark Clark Extension with other projects in the county that would be funded by the half-cent sales tax if approved.

Some of the projects include:

  • Northside Drive realignment (North Charleston)
  • Improving airport roads
  • Widening Dorchester Road
  • Widening Glenn McConnell Parkway
  • Building the U.S. 17 flyover
  • Capacity improvements to Savannah Highway
  • Widening Main Road (Johns Island)
  • Improvements to James Island intersections
  • Congestion infrastructure improvements to the crosstown (downtown Charleston)
  • Widening S.C. 41

Supporters for the increase say the state has failed in giving Charleston the proper improvements to the area, and this is the next best thing officials can do.

"It won't fix everything," Limehouse said. "It's not a panacea, but we'll do the best we can if the referendum passes, and if it doesn't pass then we'll go to plan b."

"It will be interesting to see what happens on November 8," Crowley said.

In 2004, County voters approved a half-cent sales tax that's expected to bring in $1.3 billion by 2030. According to the "Complete the Penny" website, the half penny has completed 89 projects and generated more than $600 million in additional state and federal funds.

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