CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Dorchester County officials say nearly $90,000 has been spent defending a bond referendum voters approved in 2016 to build parks and libraries, and one county councilman believes the legal battle could cost taxpayers even more.
On Wednesday, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled the question posed to voters more than two years ago was illegal. CLICK HERE to read the full filing.
“Because the question contained two separate bond proposals and required voters to support both or neither, we hold it was unlawful,” court documents state.
Voters were forced to support both options or neither:
Shall Dorchester County, South Carolina be authorized to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $30,000,000 for funding the acquisition of land and the design and construction of new library facilities in Summerville and North Charleston and general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $13,000,000 for funding recreational facilities, including the development of the Dorchester County Courthouse Park in St. George, the Ashley River Park and the Pine Trace Natural area in Summerville, and the development of hiking, biking and pedestrian trails, together with associated infrastructure, at various locations throughout the County?
“We felt very much like we were transparent to the voter on the last election,” Dorchester County Councilman Jay Byars said. “The supreme court said this question was not misleading at all. They just disagreed with combining the question..”
The legal battle has cost Dorchester County $88,757, and Byars believes the bill for taxpayers will only increase if the projects are approved again.
“We originally had $13 million for parks. That’s not going to be nearly enough at this point,” Byars said. “The costs of construction have gone up because of this delay and the court, so by suing, they have basically cost the taxpayers more.”
The other side of this debate says this decision is about upholding the law.
“It’s more than just about dollars and cents,” Dorchester County Taxpayers Association Chairman John Braun said. “It’s about following the law, doing things in an appropriate manner…If people are going to vote that the county will borrow money for anything, let them vote. But let them vote on one single issue, so that it can be discussed rationally.”
The case sets a new precedent in South Carolina.
“All counties, all municipalities, all school districts have to now follow this law, which says in many cases, not all, but many, that there is no such thing as a quality of life referendum in South Carolina,” Braun said. “Issues can’t just be combined on a ballot.”
On July 18, 2016, the Dorchester County Council passed an ordinance ordering a referendum to be held during the Nov. 8, 2016, elections, according to court documents.