Dorchester County Council deserves chance to make its sales-tax case

You'd think Dorchester County officials would eventually get the message.

Four times they have asked voters to approve a 1 percent local-option sales tax, and four times the people have said, well, no.

In case you haven't heard, a lot of folks around here — especially in Dorchester County — don't like taxes. Or the government, for that matter.

But county council recently voted, unanimously, to put the question to voters for a fifth time. Obviously, a bunch of optimists.

So maybe it's time for people to take this seriously and listen to them.

Dorchester County Council is not exactly a hotbed of tax-and-spend liberalism. It's been more than a decade since council has raised taxes, and 15 years since it has asked about a local-option sales tax.

They say this is about spreading the tax burden around — to people who don't own property, to tourists — and giving homeowners and businesses a break.

Now all they have to do is persuade folks to go along with it.

Changing times?

County Councilman David Chinnis thinks there is a general lack of trust out there regarding the government.

Especially in Dorchester County.

“If you don't want anything, taxes are bad,” Chinnis says. “But there are few people who don't want something — good services, funding for roads. It's not free, but not everyone gets that.”

The key, Chinnis thinks, is to cut through the anti-tax baloney and explain that this will offer a way to cut property taxes for homeowners and businesses. And that's a message council is going to try to spread for the next five months. You won't be able to miss it.

Councilman Larry Hargett believes this referendum can pass. After all, county voters last year approved a school bond referendum by a fairly healthy margin.

It gives the county hope.

“We're in a different era now,” Hargett says. “A lot of people say, 'I don't mind paying if I'm going to get something for it.' ”

Leap of faith

The critics already are coming out of the woodwork.

Tea party types are not going to support any new tax for anything — that's just the way it is. And others are going to complain that a sales tax is regressive, that it disproportionately hits the poor.

That's a good point, but council members are arguing that right now businesses and property owners are shouldering an inordinate amount of the load for services that benefit everyone.

That's a fair point too.

The deal is that the sales tax will be used to offset property taxes, but it is a leap of faith. Once the votes are counted, the tax is real and residents have to count on the council to keep its word.

So far no one has been willing to do that. It's why Chairman Bill Hearn has been so frustrated. He says the sales tax offers a way to spread the burden to visitors and at least zero out the impact on property owners, but so far no one has listened.

Now Dorchester residents have a choice to make, and it all comes down to how much they trust county officials.

Seeing as how this council — with a track record of conservative voting — has had the guts to ask for a tax increase, they at least deserve the chance to make their case.



Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com

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