County Council considering $43 million question to fund parks, libraries

The aging George H. Seago Library in Summerville will be replaced if Dorchester County voters approve a referendum in November. (File)

Dorchester voters could decide Nov. 8 if they want to pay higher taxes to fund $43 million in new parks and libraries.

County Council is expected to give final reading Monday to an ordinance that will put a question on this fall’s ballot asking voters whether they support a plan to spend $30 million on libraries and $13 million on parks.

If approved, the measure would add about $48 to the annual property tax bill of a $200,000 owner-occupied home.

“Libraries, parks and things like that are the core of a community,” said Council Chairman David Chinnis. “This will tell us whether the people of Dorchester County are interested in quality of life issues.”

In the last several months, representatives from both parks and recreation and the library have told council members they need more money to add and improve facilities.

County Republican Party Vice Chair Peggy Bangle questioned why the two issues were put into one question.

““I feel offended. ... (voters) don’t have a choice (between the two),” she said.

But Chinnis said he believes they belong together.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea to put them together because it is the same quality of life issue,” he said. “We’re not building a jail or paving roads with this money. It’s about the things that people do in their free time. I think it makes sense.”

The referendum would provide the funds to replace the outdated and small George H. Seago Jr. library branch at 76 Old Trolley Road in Summerville, add a new facility in North Charleston, and buy land for another in Ridgeville, officials said.

The Summerville library, built in 1979 and renovated in 1996, has an aged heating and air-conditioning system, inadequate plumbing and electrical systems, and has suffered from a lack of maintenance, according to a 10-year master plan study. Also, the 20,000-square-foot building and its parking lot are too small, and there is no room to expand.

Summerville resident Jennie Powell said going to the library there “is a frustrating experience.”

“It’s hard to get a parking spot because the lot’s so small,” she said, “and if you have kids, you don’t want to have to walk from the shopping center parking lot. I quit even trying to go there.”

The parks money would pay for developing a park at the courthouse in St. George as well as developing the Ashley River Park and Pine Trace, both in Summerville.

The design for the courthouse park, which was being planned even before Eric Davis was hired as the county’s first parks and recreation director in September 2014, will be presented to council Aug. 8. Construction could begin in January.

Plans call for youth ball fields, a playground, a pavilion, an adult fitness area, a multi-purpose field and two basketball courts.

Ashley River and Pine Trace are passive parks, with trails and nature areas.

In 2010, voters approved a $5 million parks and conservation referendum that was meant to get the program started, Davis said. About $866,000 of that remains.

That bond funded the purchase of the Ashley River park site ($1.6 million), courthouse park site ($850,000), Pine Trace site ($1 million), Ashley River Blue Trail boater access sites ($100,000), and about $500,000 in conservation easements.

County Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at 500 N Main St., Summerville.

Reach Brenda Rindge at (843) 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.