Since 2008, shoppers in Berkeley County have paid an extra penny on each dollar's purchase to fund roadwork.
With one year left to go on the taxing authority, county leaders and state legislators already are at work to keep it going another seven years.
But there's a catch: State law requires a referendum-approved tax to run its course before it can go before voters again.
"I should have guessed that a temporary tax wouldn't be temporary," said David Walker, who lives off Clements Ferry Road. "I doubt we'll ever get that money back now."
The county can't legally put the 1 percent sales tax back before the voters until it expires in May 2015.
Unless that law is changed. And lawmakers are trying to do that.
County Supervisor Dan Davis said unless that happens, the measure couldn't be voted on until the 2016 general election. That, he said, would cost the county about $15 million in revenue during the lag time.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, one of the sponsors of the bill to allow extending the sales tax, has said he believes it will pass in time to make the November ballot.
Davis said there's more work to be done to improve county roads.
He also said the county's transportation impact fee is driving new business away, so he wants to do away with it - if the county can ask voters to continue the penny sales tax program for another seven years.
He has put both issues on the agenda for Monday's County Council meeting, a move that Councilman Tim Callanan, chairman of the finance committee, calls political.
"He is putting stuff on the agenda to help his re-election campaign," Callanan said. "This is grossly premature."
But Davis said he wants the road projects to continue seamlessly, so he's laying the groundwork for a November referendum to ask voters if they want to continue with the 1 percent tax to widen, improve and repave roads.
"We're going to go ahead and introduce it now, anticipating that the law is going to be changed," Davis said. "We just want to have it in place" in time to get it on the ballot, he said.
In 2008, voters first approved increasing sales tax by 1 cent on the dollar for seven years to fund road improvements.
"We were blessed that the citizens of Berkeley County had enough faith in us to approve that penny sales tax," Davis said. "We told them what we were going to do and I feel that I can say that we have achieved that."
On top of extending the tax, Davis would like the county to abolish the impact fee it charges new businesses in the lower part of the county.
"It's a deterrent to development in the county," Davis said. "It was passed initially to guarantee funding for the improvements in the Jedburg area which were needed, but the impact fee has had a dampening effect on development."
That money is already allocated, so before the fee can be terminated, the penny sales tax has to be passed to make up the difference, he said.
Since the sales tax program started, it has collected about $72 million to fund projects such as the Henry Brown Boulevard extension, the widening of Clements Ferry Road, College Park Road and U.S. Highway 17A, improvements at key intersections throughout the county and repaving of dozens of roads.
Several projects still remain, such as phase II of the widening of Clements Ferry Road and phase II of the Henry Brown Boulevard (North Rhett) extension, Davis said. Those projects were on the original list but were cut due to a lack of funding.
"There are just as many and maybe more improvement projects in (the second phase of) this program," Davis said, but there is no list of projects yet. "The beauty of this is that there isn't money from the state to keep up our road infrastructure, but the penny sales tax is providing those funds and helping keep our roads in good shape so we can deal with the traffic."
And that's the reason Walker would support the referendum.
"Sometimes I feel like our taxes are spiraling out of control, but if paying more taxes is the only way to get Clements Ferry widened, then we have to do it," he said. "I sit in that traffic every day. It's bad and it's just going to get worse. Something has to be done."
A sign sits on the side of Jedburg Road in Berkeley County reminding residents how their taxes are being spent.×
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