Voters approval of sales tax increase kicks off early stages of improvements

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Next week Charleston County will start hearing project quotes from companies for transportation improvements from the half-cent sales tax referendum, according to the Charleston County Council Chairman.

Elliott Summey said Wednesday he's hoping to get a jump on these improvement projects as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 52% of voters said yes to a sales tax increase in Charleston County while 48% said no to completing the penny.

"It was an incredibly close result," said Land Use Program Director Natalie Olson with the Coastal Conservation League.

"Anytime you ask people to tax themselves, generally speaking it's going to be a close vote," Summey said. "No one likes to pay taxes, I don't like to pay taxes. Unfortunately to get what we need in this community we're going to have to do it."

Starting in May people will pay 9% in sales tax in Charleston County.

The hope is to pump $2.1 billion of transportation improvements into the County for things like roads, public transit, and greenbelts.

"The state legislature over the years hasn't had a reoccurring funding source for our road issues down here," Summey said. "We're having to take the bull by the horns and do it for ourselves."

More than half of the money will be spent on road projects, while $600 million will go to the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority to improve its collection of buses and create the area's first rapid bus transit system.

"If you look at that plan it starts in Summerville and goes to downtown Charleston," Olson said. "The second phase, which isn't funded yet, is supposed to follow with a route from Summerville to Moncks Corner."

Olson said the County Council hasn't been transparent or held accountable for the projects which would be funded.

"This referendum isn't binding," she said. "The project list can be changed with a 5-4 vote at county council at any time."

Summey said the Council is committed to getting these projects, that were on the list before voters headed to the polls, underway as soon as possible.

"By this calendar year we'll be under design and permit for Dorchester Road, Highway 78, Highway 41, and the 17 and Main flyover," he said.

"I think the response is that we'll see," Olson said. "I'm really optimistic."

Olson feels because of the debate heading in to the election, the public will follow the status of many of these improvement projects.

"At our first council meeting in December, we'll be asking council permission to design and permit all of those projects," Summey said. "The best way to prove something to someone is to do it."

The referendum passed by a margin of a little more than 5,000 votes.

When the sales tax is increased, Charleston County will have the highest in the state.

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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