MOUNT PLEASANT - Just days after residents packed a public input meeting to support large future recreation hubs, Town Council committees on Tuesday debated last-minute plans to raise property taxes to fund major recreation projects.
The results were mixed.
Its Recreation Committee voted unanimously to recommend the increase to the full Town Council while its Finance Committee voted 2-2.
The proposal, which would add about $12 in annual property taxes to a roughly $300,000 home, comes after Town Council raised property taxes to the tune of $36 this spring on the same home.
The earlier increase will help pay for one of the town's largest outlays ever for capital projects, including wides- pread storm water drainage work, road pavement repairs and improvements and other projects.
The hike also marked the town's first property tax increase in more than two decades, and town officials noted Mount Pleasant still has one of the lowest tax rates in the area.
The increase now being debated would go to capital recreation projects in a town booming with heavy recreation users, namely families with school-age children and senior citizens.
"The timing is excellent for recreation to do this," Recreation Committee Chairman Elton Carrier said. "We're bursting at the seams. We don't have enough fields, and we have big-time issues coming up with big-time needs."
Town Council must finalize its property tax rate next week to send to the county auditor in time for tax bills to go out. That gives council members a last chance Tuesday to consider the recreation increase, an idea that has been dangling for several months since the town hired Clemson University researchers to study needs and cost recovery.
That study, which recommended the tax hike, found heavy recreation use and support but comparably little investment given the town's general affluence. About 91 percent of 140 people surveyed said they would pay higher taxes and fees for recreation.
However, the study's results came too late for the 2014-2015 budget process.
Just last week about 150 residents, including young athletes, parents, coaches, joggers and bicyclists, packed a public meeting to discuss how to develop a 145-acre area off Rifle Range Road.
Multipurpose athletic fields topped their wish lists with many describing major field shortages, especially for soccer and lacrosse.
Voting to recommend the recreation tax increase were Carrier, Gary Santos and Thomasena Stokes-Marshall.
Santos also encouraged officials to look at other areas such as charging again to park at Memorial Waterfront Park.
"We want to make sure we maximize our profits," Santos said.
"We just had a tax increase, and now we (could) have another. I promise you people will be looking at this with a magnifying glass."
Others said the plan comes too quickly with too little research. Finance Committee Chairman Chris O'Neal and Councilman Chris Nickels voted no.
"I would like to see this vetted a little more," O'Neal said. "I'm not steadfast that I don't want to do it, but I worry about the pace we are moving."
Nickels agreed: "My comfort level is not good right now."
Councilman Mark Smith, who voted against the earlier tax increases, said he doesn't plan to support this one either. "We need more information to make an informed decision."
Councilman Paul Gawrych also agreed, saying he wouldn't consider the increase "until I can be shown a well thought-out plan."
Mayor Linda Page and Councilman Ken Glasson could cast deciding votes.
Page said she isn't sure yet how she will vote. "Our citizens want it," she said about recreation. "And we've heard many times our citizens saying they are willing to pay for it."
Glasson also was uncertain how he would vote and lacked details about how the money would be spent.
Meanwhile, council members also are studying whether to raise user fees, including to rent the town's athletic fields, gyms, track, tennis courts, pools and other heavily used facilities.
The town also is applying for a state matching funds grant to help build an athletic complex at Carolina Park.
The property has capacity for more soccer fields, four baseball diamonds and other amenities. It now has soccer fields but no water or sewer, which means no permanent bathrooms.
"It really is not built to our standards," town Administrator Eric DeMoura said.
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