DORCHESTER — The local option sales tax proposal was defeated again Tuesday in Dorchester County, ending a bruising campaign marked by short tempers and personal attacks.
More than 65 percent of voters cast ballots against the proposal, according to unofficial election results.
“It’s a victory for the general public over real estate and developer special interests. That’s the way we saw it at the beginning, and that’s the way we see it now,” said John Braund, of the Dorchester County Taxpayers Association, at an association campaign celebration.
“It’s been ugly, name-calling. We’ve been accused of being bribed,” said County Council Chairman Bill Hearn. “Fighting to keep from lowering your property taxes is the craziest thing I have ever seen.”
If it had been approved, the 1 percent sales tax increase would have generated revenue for Dorchester County and municipalities to use to provide property tax credits. Charleston and Berkeley counties are among 31 of the state’s 46 counties that already have the tax. Dorchester County residents repeatedly have rejected it, most recently in 1998.
The measure deliberately had been put on the ballot in an “off-year” election without state or national races. Dorchester County Council members said it allowed voters to focus on the issue. Opponents said the off-year move was an attempt to get the tax approved by supporters, with only a small percentage of eligible voters expected to vote. “Irresponsible and reprehensible,” resident Steven Wright scolded County Council members at a meeting Monday.
About 10 percent of the county’s registered voters turned out Tuesday, about average for a special election, said Josh Dickard, county elections director. But that was more than either side expected.
The referendum sprung from a number of proposals to reduce property tax that were made at a county council budgeting workshop early this year. No sooner had council agreed to put the question to voters than opposition emerged in a county where voters tend to stay riled about taxes and the groups organized to battle them have become well established.
The hostility of the campaign played out in the newspaper and on radio talk shows. County officials conceded they were frustrated by the divisiveness as tempers flared.
The campaign set council members against each other and fractured the county Republican Party, whose members belong to groups such as real estate agents and anti-tax organizations that found themselves on opposite sides.
Jordan Bryngelson, county party chairman, characterized the rift as a microcosm of the party nationwide.
“There’s a very conservative movement and a traditionally pro-business movement,” he said. “We’ve got a few kinks to work out as far as melding those two groups.”
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